Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Matt Joyce to throw first pitch at North Brandon Little League

Outfielder Matt Joyce will join his Rays teammates today at newly renovated Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, striving to find his role for the defending American League champions.

Joyce, who was acquired from Detroit in the offseason, takes on the challenge of becoming a fixture on a team that won 97 games last year.

He will shag flies across lush green fields, hurl laser throws into home and maybe even crush a few batting practice home runs off the new tiki bar in center field.

And then he'll reminisce about the place he hit his first home run. No, not Detroit's Comerica Park. I mean the place he hit his first home run: North Brandon Little League.

The Armwood High and Florida Southern graduate will make the 90-minute drive from Port Charlotte to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the North Brandon complex tonight.

Joyce, 24, joins Chone Figgins (Angels) and Ryan Raburn (Tigers) as major leaguers who learned the game at North Brandon, but his appearance tonight takes on a little more meaning because he's playing for the hometown team.

"I think there's going to be a special connection because the kids can turn on the TV every night and see him play," said North Brandon's Rob Turkett. "They can drive 45 minutes with their dads and watch him play for the Rays just like Matt did with his dad.

"We're extremely excited to have him here."

Joyce is excited, too. Although he has played only one season, he already embraces the chance to influence his youngest fans.

"I definitely want to be a role model," Joyce said. "I think there are a lot of guys nowadays that kids look up to. Because of the news about some, they may be getting the wrong image of what they should be like.

"I just want to be a big part of that. That's where you grew up, that's your home ground. You have to pay respect to it and take care of it."

Part of Joyce's motivation comes from the fact he didn't have a major league player come out and discuss what it takes to reach the pinnacle of the sport. However, there will be more than major league talk to his message.

"I guess the biggest thing is don't take it too seriously," Joyce said when asked what he would share. "This game can be very frustrating and it's meant to be fun. Enjoy it. It goes really fast and you get what you put into it.

"Work hard enough, and anything is possible."

Joyce is living proof of that last statement. Although he displayed potential during his Little League days, he wasn't necessarily one of those players everyone ticketed for stardom. Even today, about half his friends say they knew he would make it and about half say they can't believe he made it.

Yet under the watchful eye of his father, also Matt, Joyce spent long days honing his game at North Brandon. He often played against older kids in higher age divisions, and fondly recalls competing with his stepbrother, Lance McDonald.

Those formative years featured a lot of firsts, a lot of growing and a lot of time with his dad, who coached most of his teams.

It wasn't always rosy.

"He knew baseball. He helped out a lot … but I think we butted heads a lot. He wanted me to succeed so he was overly involved, but I know I wouldn't be where I am now without him."

After North Brandon, Joyce went on to Armwood, playing against many of his former North Brandon friends who moved on to Brandon High. He earned a scholarship to Florida Southern and Detroit drafted him in 2005.

Last year, he made his major league debut, hitting .252 with 12 home runs and 33 RBIs for the Tigers in 242 at-bats. The Rays, who gave up 14-game winner Edwin Jackson to get Joyce, believe Joyce has exceptional defensive skills and the potential to be a real force at the plate.

However, he will have to compete with Gabe Gross to earn a spot in a right-field platoon situation, and could begin the year in Triple-A Durham depending on how well he plays this spring.

Sure, throwing out the first pitch only requires an hour of his time, but don't take it for granted.

If he told the North Brandon officials, "Sorry, can't make it," not many would quibble with the decision.

Instead, he's making the drive up — proving that the term "hometown hero" is not always defined by hits and homers.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper also writes a column for the Tampa Bay section. Reach him at or (813) 226-3406.

If you go

North Brandon Little League opening ceremony

When: Today),

7 p.m.

Where: North Brandon Little League, 2915 S Kingsway Road, Seffner.

Who: Boys and girls age 5 to 16 begin a six-month season that concludes with All-Star competitions. Games begin on Saturday.

Admission: Free

Rays outfielder Matt Joyce, a former North Brandon player, will address the players and throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Matt Joyce to throw first pitch at North Brandon Little League 02/19/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:40pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Editorial: Turn the heat up on AC problem in Hillsborough schools


    Hillsborough County School District students do not want to hear that their buildings are decrepit. They do not want to hear that Florida's legislators are complicit. All they want to hear is the sweet sound of a classroom air conditioner kicking in at full power. Anything less creates uncomfortably hot classrooms and …

    Superintendent Jeff Eakins and the current Hillsborough County School Board did not create this air conditioning mess, but they own it now.
  2. Man in bunny mask part of trio that breaks into Odessa McDonald's to haul away ATM


    ODESSA — A man in a bunny mask and two also-masked accomplices broke into a McDonald's early Wednesday, hoisted an automatic teller machine into a stolen minivan, then dumped the ATM and the van into a pond, deputies say.

    Three masked men, including one in a bunny mask, broke into an Odessa McDonald's early Wednesday and stole the ATM.
 [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  3. Plan your weekend Aug. 25-27: Craig Morgan, Wearable Art 13, SNL's Pete Davidson, Rodeo Fest


    Plan your weekend


    Pete Davidson: Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson will headline this year's University of South Florida Round-Up Comedy Show, a back-to-school tradition at USF. Expect to hear about his recent trip to rehab, since he's known for his confessional …

    The 12th annual Wearable art Fashion Show was held at the Dunedin Fine Art Center on Saturday evening, August 27, 2016.
DAVID W DOONAN | Special To The Times
  4. Richard Corcoran takes aim at public financing of campaigns

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, may not be running for governor — not yet anyway — but his latest idea will get the attention of those who are.

    House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R- Land O' Lakes, is proposing an end to public financing of campaigns. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  5. Jeb Bush on the 'most ridiculous example of political correctness in history'


    Jeb Bush on ESPN's decision to pull commentator Robert Lee from a football broadcast at the University of Virginia.