You can't blame Matt Lackie of Mission Viejo High School for taking what could be a high school pitcher's career highlight--a no-hitter--in stride. He may be only 17, but he's an old hand when it comes to the spotlight.
Lackie, The Times' Player of the Week, beat Fountain Valley last Tuesday, 6-0. He struck out 6, walked 3 and went 2 for 3 with an RBI double against the Barons. Friday, Lackie went 1 for 2 with an RBI in a 5-4 loss to Irvine in a South Coast Conference League opener.
"It was fun," he said of the no-hitter. "It was definitely one of my goals this season. (But) actually, I think I was in my prime when I was a little kid."
His prime season, according to Lackie, came four years ago during a vacation in Sturgis, in the province of Saskatchewan in west-central Canada.
Lackie, then 13, was vacationing with his Little League coach, Dan Reed, when he learned of Sports Day--a summer sports festival involving the best amateur athletes in Saskatchewan. It is held every July 1 on Dominion Day (Canada's Independence Day).
Reed, a Sturgis native, asked his son, Danny Jr., and Lackie if they'd like to go to the baseball championship game. They agreed, but upon reaching the Sturgis Stadium box office, Reed was met with more than tickets.
Mervin Secundiak, a boyhood friend of Reed who was manager of the Astros (of Canora), told Reed that his pitcher had injured his elbow. The team needed a replacement, as there was no other pitcher. The only alternative was to move a starter from another position, so Secundiak was open to suggestions. The championship was in two days.
So Reed suggested that Lackie fill in. Lackie gave a demonstration of his pitching ability that day and was impressive enough to get a chance in the big game.
"It was really strange how it happened: One second I was fishing, the next I was warming up, showing these guys I could pitch," Lackie said. "I guess they thought I was OK, even though I was 13 and everyone on the team was between 25 and early 30s."
Not everyone was convinced, and many laughed at the team's choice. Although he was 6-feet tall, Lackie couldn't hide his age.
When he walked out on the field, Lackie saw the largest--and loudest--crowd he had ever played in front of. He gave up two runs in the first inning. He wanted to go fishing.
But soon he relaxed and began to throw strikes. Those two runs were the only ones he gave up in a 4-2 victory. He struck out six, including the final batter.
"I think the batters all resented me," he said. "Especially the guy I struck out at the end. He wanted a piece of me. I was just this 13-year-old kid who just came from out of nowhere."
In the final moments, Lackie noticed that the people in the stands were cheering for him.
"I couldn't believe they were that excited," he said. "They didn't even know me."
But they wanted to. After the last out, people rushed onto the field, crowded around him and asked for his autograph. Lackie didn't quite know what to do.
"It was real fun, but I was like this hero to everyone all of a sudden, and I just stood there," he said. "These people were going crazy. They kept asking me if I would come back the next year. I just was laughing."
He's still pitching well, and that gives him a reason to keep smiling.