NORTHEAST GLENDALE — Matt Curtis stood before the 90 or so attendants of the Falcons Summer Baseball Camp at Stengel Field on Thursday morning and drew some oohs and aahs from his audience when sharing stories about traveling around the country with a collegiate baseball program and celebrating in a dog pile on the mound after winning a championship, all while flashing his College World Series ring.
Curtis brought a voice of authority on the subject for the young campers in attendance hoping to someday play college baseball, as the La Crescenta resident just completed his first season as head baseball coach at Cal State University Northridge after spending 10 seasons as an assistant with the highly successful Fresno State program.
“It was a tough first year. I kind of expected that with just the timing of getting a job the week before school started and getting a staff put together,” said Curtis, who was hired in August to replace former Matadors Coach Steve Rousey, also a longtime La Crescenta resident. “We felt like we were playing catch-up the whole year, but it was exciting and it was a lot of fun just kind of getting our system established and getting the pieces in place.”
CSUN went 23-33 and finished 6-18 in the Big West Conference in Curtis’ first season, but had some quality wins over teams such as Cal State Fullerton, ranked ninth at the time, and Long Beach State.
“We came together at the end and we played much more competitive baseball in the conference and the conference is difficult,” Curtis said. “We knew that going in, but it was still challenging.”
Several Matadors were selected in the 2011 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft in June and Curtis is high on his first recruiting class, while also hoping that an upgrade to the team’s facilities performed this season will have an impact on future recruiting.
During Curtis’ 10 seasons at Fresno State, the Bulldogs went 362-272, won five Western Athletic Conference titles and made four NCAA Regional appearances, including 2008, when they won the national championship. While at Fresno State, Curtis served as pitching coach, third base coach and defensive instructor of catchers, among other job titles over the years. Four of the recruiting classes he helped to assemble at Fresno State gained top-20 national ranking.
“I felt prepared coming in, but with every new role, there’s new responsibilities,” Curtis said. “There’s things I think I was really prepared for and there’s things that maybe I’m still learning and growing into that role. I’m still trying to get better, just like I’m still trying to make our guys get better.”
Crescenta Valley High baseball Coach Phil Torres, who conducted the four-day camp that concluded Thursday, played Double-A baseball with Fresno State head Coach Mike Batesole. Torres said he advised Curtis, whom he met through Batesole, on buying a home and finding schools when he recently moved to La Crescenta.
“He’s come out to see Elliott [Surrey] and Kyle Murray throw last week,” Torres said of two of the top pitchers from last season’s Falcons team. “He knows we’ve got players, so he’ll be around here too a little bit.”
Curtis said he looks forward to building the Matadors’ program during his first full offseason at CSUN.
“It was a learning year for us as a coaching staff, it was learning year for the student athletes getting used to us as a coaching staff,” Curtis said. “The results weren’t what we would like them to be, but it’s a place to start. I think we’ve got some good things ahead of us.
“I think there’s a lot of things we accomplished.”