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Column: Hart catcher Matt Quintanar is destined to play baseball for a long time

Hart High catcher Matt Quintanar waits in the on-deck area before an at-bat.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Matt Quintanar of Newhall Hart High is a 17-year-old junior destined to play baseball for as long as he wants. He loves sweating, spitting and getting dirty behind home plate playing catcher.

If he isn’t calling the umpire by his first name by the game’s conclusion, it surely won’t be his fault because he’s a nonstop talker with the kind of enthusiasm and personality that’s noticed by opposing players.

When Blake Schroeder of Santa Clarita rival West Ranch walked into the batter’s box this past week, he was greeted by a handshake from Quintanar. What catcher shakes hands with a rival before the biggest game of the year?

“That’s Matt,” said Schroeder, who played summer ball with Quintanar. “That’s all him. He just talks a lot. It’s his life.”

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In the dugout, when he’s not hitting, the 6-foot, 180-pound Quintanar is shouting encouragement and offering advice to teammates. It’s as if he’s an unofficial cheerleader and assistant coach.

When pitcher Jake Villar, who had given up no hits, threw three consecutive balls in the fourth inning, Quintanar called timeout, removed his catcher’s mask and walked to the mound to have a short conversation with his pitcher. You’d think he’d give him a little pep talk, pat him on the back, tell him everything was going to be fine. Not quite.

“It was a lot of tough love,” Villar said. “He said, ‘Pick it up. What are you doing?’ He’s a big guy, so you want to be nice to him.”

Quintanar went back behind the plate and shouted for everyone to hear, “Come on baby, so what?”

Villar proceeded to throw consecutive strikes before getting the batter to fly out.

Quintanar deployed the correct strategy, knowing his pitcher’s personality. “I told him to figure it out. He had been having a great day. Others I have to be a little softer,” he said.

Said Hart coach Jim Ozella: “He’s very savvy about the game. He knows the background of the game, he studies it, he watches it. He knows how to improve himself and the people around him. There’s a time he’s a coach on the field and it’s a great thing. You let him do his thing. Sometimes in today’s world that might rub some players the wrong way, but it comes down to he wants his team to be successful.”

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Quintanar, who committed to Pepperdine, has struck out only twice all season. He’s batting .521. He takes every at-bat seriously, then moves on. It’s the only way to be successful in baseball, where perfection is the goal but never achieved. Short-term memory is a requirement because moving on to the next at-bat, the next throw, the next decisive moment can be immediate.

“I’m catching the ball every pitch, so if I mess up, I’ll mess up the entire game,” he said.

Matt Quintanar poses for a photo at home.
(Courtesy of Quintanar family)

There are times Ozella has had to tone down Quintanar’s enthusiasm in an attempt to keep him healthy.

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“He hit the ball to left-center field and we’re up 12-0 and he comes flying around second and slides head first into third,” Ozella said. “I told him, ‘That’s great but we’re up 12-0. I don’t want you getting hurt sliding head first. You’re going to learn when you’re playing in college and pro ball, there are times for the health of the team and your health.’ He looked at me like I’m crazy. I’d rather have to tone a kid down than pick him up. He’s old school.”

Quintanar loves catching.

“I love to control the game,” he said. “Everything is in front of me. I can see everything,”

Quintanar loves baseball.

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“My first memory was T-ball,” he said. “I remember pointing up like Babe Ruth and hitting a home run.”

Ozella, who has coached numerous future pro players at Hart, including Trevor Bauer, said Quintanar is someone we’ll be hearing about and watching for years to come.

“The brain is at a different level than a lot of other players,” he said. “That’s a determining factor down the road. He’ll find a way.”

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At the end of Hart’s 2-0 victory over West Ranch, there was drama. Massimo Vega came in with the bases loaded and got consecutive strikeouts to secure the win. As Vega and teammates celebrated the final strikeout, Quintanar turned and shook hands with the umpire instead of joining the celebration.

“That’s Carl,” Quintanar said. “I’ve had him a couple games. He went to Pepperdine and majored in business.”

Yes, he knows everything about the umpire at game conclusion. Call it smart, call it savvy, call it a teenager with a bright future.


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