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Chico makes major league debut

 

Last updated 4/19/2007 at Noon



Matt Chico became the first Fallbrook High School graduate to play Major League Baseball when he pitched for the Washington Nationals April 4 in Washington.

Chico was the Nationals’ starting pitcher against the Florida Marlins. He threw four innings and did not receive a decision in the Nationals’ 7-6 victory.

“It was an exciting time,” Chico said of his major league debut. “It was one I was hoping for for a long time and finally got a chance to do it.”

Chico pitched to two batters in the fifth inning before being relieved. He allowed six runs, all earned, on eight hits, three of which were home runs. He struck out three batters while walking none.

“It started off kind of rough,” he said. “Just made a couple of mistakes and afterwards bullpen, defense pulled together, pulled it out for me.”

Chico had one plate appearance in the game; he led off the bottom of the third inning by grounding out to second. “Got a fastball first pitch, watched it, and just grounded out the second one,” he said.

Chico graduated from Fallbrook High School in 2001. As a senior the left-handed pitcher led the CIF San Diego Section with an earned run average of 0.84 and posted a 10-1 record with his only loss occurring during the CIF quarterfinals in which the Warriors were eliminated by Poway High School. Chico’s 116 strikeouts placed fourth in the CIF San Diego Section that year, and at the plate in 2001 Chico, who played center field when he wasn’t pitching, hit six home runs and led the Warriors with 31 runs scored.

Chico earned all-CIF honors both as a junior and as a senior. As a senior he was named the Avocado League’s pitcher of the year while joining teammate Donnie Lucy as Avocado League co-players of the year. The all-CIF selections were derived from a poll of selected media, who also named Chico the CIF player of the year in 2001, and Cal-Hi Sports named Chico to the all-state first team in 2001.

Chico was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the second round of the 2001 draft but did not sign, opting instead to pitch for the University of Southern California. He was chosen by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2004 draft.

In August 2006 the Diamondbacks traded Chico and Garrett Mock to the Nationals in exchange for pitcher Livan Hernandez. “They made a lot of trades,” Chico said of the Nationals. “They wanted to rebuild their minor league system.”

A strong minor league system increases the chances of the major league team’s future success. Chico felt that the trade likely allowed him to reach the big leagues sooner. “Going there I felt I had a pretty good shot because there weren’t that many lefties the Nationals had for a big league spot.”

Chico made the 2007 opening roster following his Spring Training performance. “I thought I had a reasonable shot,” he said of earning a berth on the Nationals from his Florida exhibition season showing.

Chico wasn’t necessarily expecting to make the final 25-man roster. “That wasn’t really on my mind at all,” he said.

Chico’s primary goal during Spring Training was to learn for his eventual major league opportunity. “I just tried to take one day at a time,” he said. “I ended up pitching pretty well, and they made the decision on putting me in the third spot in the rotation.

The Nationals travel to San Diego to play the Padres April 30 through May 2, and in the absence of rainouts or rotation changes Chico would be in line to pitch against the Padres on May 1.

Chico remembers the players, coaches, and parents from his Fallbrook High School and other youth baseball days. “Those guys helped me out a lot,” he said. “I just want to thank them.”

Chico didn’t plan on being the first Fallbrook High School alumni to partake in Major League Baseball as a player. “It’s something I never really thought about,” he said.

Lucy, who also graduated from Fallbrook High School in 2001, played at Stanford University before being drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2004. Chico had hoped that he and Lucy would reach the majors together. “That didn’t happen,” Chico said.

Lucy is starting the season with the White Sox’s Class AA affiliate in Birmingham. Fallbrook High School graduates Josh Carter and Troy Cate are also in the minor leagues, and several other former Warriors are now playing college baseball. “I might have been the first,” Chico said of being the first former Fallbrook player to reach the majors, “but I’m definitely not going to be the last.”

 

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