By BRIAN WOODSON / Bluefield Daily Telegraph
PRINCETON — It’s been said that left-handers are little different, perhaps even a little goofy.
Matthew Stabelfeld would agree. He is one.
“We’re all kind of goofy for some reason,” said Stabelfeld, with a laugh. “I’m a little goofy. We all are.”
A left-handed relief pitcher with the Princeton Rays, Stabelfeld would like to take that personality, and his specialty all the way to the major leagues.
“I have to pitch well and make good adjustments toward the ultimate goal of getting to the big leagues,” said the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Stabelfeld. “I have to make the adjustments, and as a left-hander, get a lot of lefties out. I have to learn how to get them all out.”
A native of Turlock, Calif., Stabelfeld arrived in Princeton after being a 41st round draft choice by the Tampa Bay Rays in June out of Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho.
Stabelfeld, who will turn 23 on Aug. 21, feels that his versatility will help in his hopes of reaching the big leagues.
“I pitched well in college, I had two different roles in two years,” said Stabelfeld, who also went to Merced College for two years in his home state. “I bring a little bit of everything to the table. I can be a starter, I can be a middle reliever, and long relief, and I’m left-handed so that helps.”
One of four southpaws on the Rays, Stabelfeld has seen eight appearances out of the bullpen, compiling a 1-0 record with a 4.82 ERA, allowing 10 hits and five earned runs in 9 1/3 innings, striking out 12 and walking eight.
“It’s been fun, I came from a four-year school that was a lot like this,” Stabelfeld, whose family had season tickets for the Oakland Athletics, located a little under two hours from Turlock, not far from Sacramento. “It was a pretty easy transition and you play every day so it can’t be bad.”
He started fast. In five of his first six outings, Stabelfeld allowed four hits in 6 2/3 innings, striking out 11 and walking four.
“I feel like I have done pretty well, getting used to pro ball and the different mindsets and how everything works,” said Stabelfeld, who fanned four in two innings against Greeneville on June 29, his longest outing of the season. “I made some good adjustments, and I started out real good.”
In Stabelfeld’s other three appearances, he’s struggled, allowing six hits, four walks and five earned runs, although he did get his lone decision with a win against Pulaski on July 19.
“I was real happy with the way I was pitching.” Stabelfeld said. “I’ve hit a little bump in the road right about now, but I’m just hoping to get back on track and start doing good things.”
Stabelfeld has done plenty of good things as a baseball player. His most memorable moment came in 2008 when he was on the mound as Lewis-Clark defeated Lee University from Cleveland, Tenn. to win the NAIA national title.
“I got the win in the championship game for that one so that was a lot of fun,” said Stabelfeld, who worked 3 1/3 innings in that game, allowing one hit and one run, while striking out three for the tradition-rich Warriors, which finished 58-7 that season.
Lewis-Clark has won an amazing 16 national championships since 1984, including six straight from 1987-92, and three in a row from 2006-08. The team is led by Ed Cheff, who has coached there for 34 years and posted a record of 1,657-425.
In fact, 14 different players from Lewis-Clark have played in the majors since ‘84 — including relief pitchers Keith Foulke and Steve Reed — and 21 are currently at some level of professional ball, including Brendan Ryan, an infielder with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Stabelfeld said the key to such success is Cheff, and the influx of transfers willing to leave Division I schools and move to a junior college, avoiding having to sit out a season.
“We’ve got real good head coach there in Ed Cheff,” said Stabelfeld, who was 2-1 with a 5.97 ERA as a junior reliever, striking out 43 in 38 innings on the mound. CA lot of the D-I transfers that come out of D-I schools want to go into the NAIA and don’t want to transfer and wait, and they seem to be drawn to that place.
“We get a lot of good guys and mix it up with some good junior college guys. He doesn’t take a lot of freshmen so there is a lot of experience there and it just carries over for good seasons.”
The Warriors fell short of a national title this season, but still finished 40-15. Stabelfeld was 4-0 with a 4.09 ERA in 14 starts, and he was especially effective against lefties, which hit just .161 (5-for-31) against him.
While Stabelfeld still has a semester remaining to complete his degree in kinesiology, he was hoping for the chance to continue his career at the next level.
“I was a little surprised, but I kind of half-way expected it,” Stabelfeld said. “Throughout the years talking to a lot of scouts, and the work I put into everything, it was a little bit of a surprise, but it was mainly that I had worked for it and I was excited about it and I was ready to go.”
That was the goal all along. A degree is nice and Stabelfeld plans to complete it, but playing baseball is what he wants to do.
“I’m sure it is for anyone that plays baseball at the college level,” Stabelfeld said. “You don’t play it just to play for a college, you play it to get somewhere else when you’re done.”
Stabelfeld had been in contact with several teams prior to the draft, but it was Tampa Bay that gave him a chance.
“I had talked to the scout out there in the northwest,” he said. “I was pretty much sitting next to the computer listening and anyone that wanted to give me a shot, I was ready to take it.”
He has shown the ability to start or relieve, but he’s been used exclusively out of the bullpen by the Rays. That is fine with him.
“It doesn’t really matter to me, I like doing long relief,” Stabelfeld said. “Pitching, whether starting, and long relief, it is pretty much the same, they are both good.”
Adjusting from NAIA to professional baseball hasn’t been as difficult as Stabelfeld thought it might be.
“Surprisingly it’s not too different, there’s some good players (in college) and of course we played in the (NAIA) World Series every year so you get the best of the best so there are really good hitters there,” Stabelfeld said. “It is a little different here where we like to throw a lot of fastballs.
“A college pitcher’s mindset is to throw the curveball, throw the change, and change plans. It’s just getting used to that and really messing with guys’ heads.”
That’s sounds like something a southpaw would do.
“The only real differences is left-handed pitchers are little more rare than right-handed pitchers,” Stabelfeld said. In high school and college, you see a lot of right-handed pitchers, but there aren’t many lefties.
“It’s coming from a completely different direction and they’re always, for some reason, kind of goofy.”