Pittsburgh Pirates Slugger Matt Joyce Joins Former High School Teammates to Give Young Baseball Players A Chance to “Chase the Dream”
Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Matt Joyce knows what it’s like to have to prove yourself on the baseball field.
After a stellar seven-year stint in major league baseball, which included an all-star appearance in 2011 and consistently respectable numbers both in the batter’s box and on the field, something went awry in 2015. So perilous was his fall from “slugging grace” that Joyce, who was playing on a one-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels at the time, was left wondering if he’d get a chance to play in the big leagues again.
That chance came with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2016, when they signed him to a $1 million minor league contract and invited him to Spring Training. Pirates fans know the rest of the story well. Joyce impressed team management, made the opening day roster with the team and enjoyed a resurgence to the type baseball he was known for throughout his career. He added a much-needed bat to the Pirates line-up and relief in an outfield that had its share of injuries and issues in 2016.
Now he’s taking that experience and passing it along to another group of baseball hopefuls as the newest co- owner of the Empire Professional Baseball League.
The league started as a travel team of 12 -18 year-olds run by two close friends with whom he played baseball in high school, Eddie and Jerry Gonzalez, Joyce explained via Twitter interview last week. In the past five to six years, that team grew into four teams and the average age crept up to 23-24 years old. Last year they converted it into the Empire League – which is comprised of four teams in New Hampshire, New York and Maine, and in a new addition for 2017, Puerto Rico.
“Eddie took over the league last year and did a great job running it,” Joyce said. “We kept in contact throughout the process and he knew it would be something that I would be interested in, so he asked if I wanted to partner up.”
Another Chance to Play
The Empire League works to develop players and feed them on to Independent Professional Baseball Federation Leagues including the Atlantic League, American Association, CanAm and Frontier League. Additionally, according to their website, they work to keep rookies ready for affiliate opportunities. The goal of the league, Eddie Gonzalez said in a press release announcing Joyce’s ownership, is to offer its players “a last resort chance to show MLB that they truly belong.”
That’s something Joyce, 32, can definitely relate to.
“I think this league will see a lot of guys that didn’t get the opportunity that they felt they deserved. Guys that were un-drafted or possibly had an injury to set them back,” he said. Additionally, the league – especially with its new Puerto Rico team – will offer players from other countries opportunities to play in a professional baseball setting on an independent level.
Eddie Gonzalez, a native of Puerto Rico, said in a press release that the newest team is the beginning of a pipeline to introduce more Puerto Rican players to baseball in America and vice versa.
“The goal is to establish a competitive franchise that would play their home games in Puerto Rico, and all teams would travel every year to play as visitors in Puerto Rico,” he said. While they are working to finalize negotiations and align the team with a home city over the next year, the Puerto Rico franchise will play all road games against their US-based counterparts. (That’s not unheard of even in the farm system of established MLB teams – – In 2012 Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli played for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees who famously played an entire season basically on the road while their ballpark was under renovation.)
“Puerto Rico is really interested in expanding their baseball efforts and the sports commission will pay for the team travel,” Joyce added.
Joyce’s involvement with the team will bring several new things to the table. Aside from additional resources, there’s the “recognition” factor of having an owner who has some MLB credentials, and an implied endorsement of the calibur of players in the league.
“I think I add more recognition, and hopefully some credibility to a really talented league,” he said.
While his MLB schedule prevents him from taking a highly active role with the day-to-day operations of the league, Joyce hopes to act as a mentor as much as he can for each of the players in the Empire League.
“I will definitely do my best to be someone that the players can look to not only for advice but hopefully as an example to follow,” he said.
Given where he was in 2015, where he ended up in 2016 and how well his season turned out, those chasing their dreams in the Empire League would be wise to follow his advice.
” I know what it feels like to be in a position where your back is against the wall and you will do whatever it takes to succeed,” Joyce said. “It’s not always the road you may have imagined or wanted but I am thankful I was still given the opportunity to prove what I can do.”
And his new investment is doing just that for a lot of young baseball hopefuls out there.
For more information on the Empire Professional Baseball League – including information on try-out camps – check out their website.
Featured image credit via Twitter