For a guy whose speed allows him to beat out routine ground balls to shortstop, Matt Moynihan has, at times, been a little slow to come around.
At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and with enough fast-twitch muscle fibers to make a professional baseball scout drool, the Orange Coast College sophomore admitted he sometimes relied on his athletic gifts to carry him to what had been fairly substantial heights.
In three varsity seasons at Cathedral Catholic High in San Diego, Moynihan amassed 142 hits, a .437 career batting average, 80 stolen bases and was an All-CIF and all-state performer. He was recruited by LSU, Arizona State, UCLA, Stanford, USC and San Diego State, before choosing the University of San Diego.
As a freshman outfielder with the Toreros, he hit .388 in 49 at-bats and was successful on all six of his stolen-base attempts.
But, displeased by his lack of playing time, Moynihan elected to transfer to a community college. He learned about Orange Coast from USD pitcher Calvin Drummond, a member of the Pirates' 2009 state championship team.
But despite his lofty credentials, Moynihan struggled in early workouts with the Pirates.
"He was pretty bad in the fall and my [assistant] coaches wanted to cut him," OCC Coach John Altobelli said. "If I didn't know about his past [success], as a highly recruited kid out of high school who was a Division I bounce-back, he would have been cut."
But knowing Moynihan's talent, Altobelli offered the 20-year-old prospect another chance.
"[Altobelli] said he didn't want to see me hit the fan and go off," Moynihan said of at least one heart-to-heart discussion in Altobelli's office. "He said he knew I had all the talent in the world and I could help this program. He told me straight, 'I'm tired of your [lack of focus]. You're going to have to get your head on straight or I'm going to have to cut you.'"
Altobelli was not the only voice in Moynihan's ear. His father Tim and mother Jody ordered their son to vacate the Costa Mesa apartment he shared with a high school friend to move home to San Diego. The move home, during the fall semester, forced Moynihan to commute from San Diego to OCC for classes and baseball practices.
The move also terminated the temptation of partaking in a night life that had, Moynihan admitted, become a distraction to his work on the diamond.
"Obviously [college students] are going to party, its just a matter of how much are you going to do it?" Moynihan said. "In the fall, I made that mistake, I did it almost every night, if not every other night. I was going out to clubs, all that stuff. Now, I do it maybe once a month. Baseball is my main focus."
Altobelli recognized that Moynihan was potentially squandering a wealth of talent.
"I told him his priorities were taking away attention from where it needed to be," Altobelli said. "I told him that if he didn't turn it around, he was going to be out of baseball or at a smaller school, when he should be playing at the highest level.
"He was driving about three hours a day to commute from San Diego, and he had a lot of time to think and do some soul searching. To his credit, he turned it around."
Moynihan said the advice of his parents, Altobelli, longtime baseball instructor and mentor Eric Andrews, and others, played in his head on those long drives to and from San Diego.
"I knew that if I didn't get a [Division I] scholarship, I was screwed," Moynihan said. "I realized I literally had to put my boots on and go to work. I busted my butt in the weight room and took extra hitting, whatever I could do to help this team."
The results have been impressive.
Moynihan, a right fielder who helps lead the Pirates into a best-of-three home series against Allan Hancock in the Southern California Regional playoffs beginning Friday at 2 p.m., finished the regular season hitting a team-leading .452. He had one home run, drove in 30 runs, scored 34 and stole 10 bases. He shared Orange Empire Conference Player of the Year recognition with teammate Jordan Beck.
He has signed to play next season at the University of Texas and said he would consider signing professionally, depending on where he was selected in the June draft and how much money a prospective team might offer.
"I'm ecstatic for him," said Altobelli, to whom Moynihan said he will be forever grateful. "He really grew up quickly."
Moynihan said he will never again disrespect his talent, or the game.