Matt Carson, Long Arm and Super Bat

An emcee takes charge of an event much the same way Matt Carson does in a baseball game.

The pre-season All-American's performance at BYU indicates he is a master of ceremonies, true to his initials, M. C. The all-conference right fielder from Yucaipa, Calif., speaks with more than his bat. The junior also leads with his arm to ignite the Cougars and was elected a co-captain this season.

The 6-2, 195-pound mechanical engineering major can appreciate the blueprints used to construct BYU's new Larry H. Miller field and he knows the angles of the game. His arm is strong enough to throw a 94 mph fastball in practice as a pitcher, but he understands his limits.

"There was another outfielder who could throw 97 mph in the league I played in last summer," said Carson, who once hit four batters before he was removed from the mound as a little league pitcher. "It takes more than an arm. You can't throw a real high arc from outfield and you've got to be accurate."

His arm is above average for a major leaguer, according to BYU Coach Vance Law, who says its the best he's seen since fellow teammate Andre Dawson. Carson modeled his arm after boyhood hero and Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan.

"Because of him I always tried to throw as hard as I could," said Carson of Ryan.

Carson always wanted to meet Ryan and be like him. In fact, he has several baseball cards of the flame-thrower in his 300-card collection, including one valued at $50. He regrets not buying a $35 rookie card of Ryan's now worth over $100.

Major leaguers like Law, Dawson and Ryan are not new to Carson. Matt's mother's cousin is Bill Buckner, whom he consulted about whether to sign professionally or go to college out of high school. And no, he did not ask Buckner about his famed World Series blunder with the Red Sox.

But if a grounder ever leaked past first base with Carson playing right field, look out. Twice Carson has turned a double play at BYU. Last year he turned a double play in game one at UNLV when he caught a fly and threw to first. As a freshman, he turned a double play in BYU's upset at No. 2 Alabama.

"I had quite a few double plays in high school," said Carson, who recorded five assists as a Cougar freshman and seven assists last season. "I play shallow in right field and I throw runners out at first base or pick them off."

Last season he threw two Illinois runners out in the same inning. Again last year, at the University of San Francisco, a Don tried to extend a third-inning, one-out single. Carson threw him out, which prevented a run scoring off the next batter's double.

In that two-day, 13-inning game at USF, Carson tied a school record with seven at bats and was a two-bagger shy of hitting for the cycle.

"I thought I hit it perfect for a double, then the ball went over the fence," said Carson of his second dinger of that game.

Those two homers were part of the 18 he hit last season, which ranked him 25th best in the nation. One of those home runs was a 410-foot blast at the University of New Mexico in the old AAA field of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He also ranked 25th in the NCAA with his 70 runs batted in as a sophomore. As a freshman against UNLV in Provo he hit the first-pitch thrown to him in late innings for a no-out grand slam.

He was a home run hitter in high school, blasting three in one game, and set the record at 15 homers in a season. He got a hit in all 27 games as a prepster. Last year, Carson went hitless in only 12 of his 56 games for BYU, including a streak of 19.

He got 76 hits last season and 77 hits the year before when he batted .395, earned Freshman All-America honors and was named the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year.

He set the BYU season record after being hit by 14 pitches as a freshman, a record he no longer holds.

"A lot of people think getting hit by a pitch is taking one for the team, but when a ball comes inside, I just won't get out of the way," said Matt, who considers himself a power hitter. "College was new to me and I just went to the plate and tried to hit the ball."

While he doesn't often fish for pitches, he does enjoy fishing for trout. He has fished in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and enjoyed another family vacation in Costa Rica with his older sister and two younger brothers.

Other family vacations have been to Utah to include fishing or hunting for dove, quail and grouse. Matt enjoys fishing nearby in the Provo River or at the Green River and Strawberry and Scofield Reservoirs.

Now that he knows the local fishing holes, opponents have also learned about Carson. Last season, pitchers tried to pitch around him, only to pay the price as teammate Kainoa Obrey, also a pre-season All-American, drove him around the bases.

"Everyone knows my weakness is a slider pitched way out," said Matt. "My strength is hitting a fastball or a change up."

Ironically, the only thing that stopped Carson last year was his swing.

He missed on a swing in the opening game of the MWC Tournament against the Air Force Academy in San Diego. Even though he got on base and scored, his back caused him so much pain he had to be pulled from the lineup.

For the next two games of the tourney, the best Carson could do was to lay in agony atop a table in back of the dugout in between rests and treatments at his parents' beachside condo in San Clemente, Calif.

At his side as his teammates were winning the Mountain West Championship was his girlfriend Lisa, a hometown acquaintance. She followed him up to the Beehive State and became a student at rival University of Utah last year so that she could be closer to Matt.

Utah is one of the teams to feel the sting of Carson's arm. Last season a Ute tried to score, but Carson threw him out at the plate.

Weeks later as the Cougars advanced to the NCAA Regionals in Lincoln, Neb., Rutgers decided to test Carson's arm. Early in the game Matt gunned down a Scarlet Knight runner at home plate with the bases loaded.

"Playing water polo as I grew up helped me strengthen my arm," said Carson, whose father Eric came to BYU years ago to swim. While playing water polo for the Cougars, Eric met Jayne, Matt's mom-to-be.

Eric and Jayne were delighted when Matt chose BYU over Nebraska and the University of Southern California.

"BYU came after me early, but I chose not to sign early," said Carson. "After the spring, I ended up choosing BYU."

Now his brother Clayton, a second baseman, made the same decision and is playing for the Cougars as a freshman this season.

"I never have played with him before," said Matt. "Until I was 14-years-old, he was always a better player than me."

Ever since then, Matt has been turning heads and leading the charge because of his arm and his bat. Throughout little league, he always wore jersey number 14. When Matt got to high school his coach was wearing it, so Matt doubled the number and has been wearing number 28.

The past two years he has been among the select few invited to the USA Team Trials in Tucson, Ariz.

"Two years ago I thought I had a good chance of making the team," said Matt, who was invited to participate in the home-run derby during that one-week period, but was not selected to join the team which ended up playing in Europe. "It was a shock when they kept only one outfielder."

Last year the USA Trials lasted three days and Matt didn't have a good tryout. Instead of joining that team to play in Japan, he packed his bags for the second year in a row to play summer ball in New England.

In the summer of 2000 he played for a team in Hyannis, Mass. Last summer he played for a team in Brewster, Mass., and also assisted in a summer camp for kids and worked at a pharmacy during the day.

Last Fall, Matt even toyed around, batting left-handed and hit a triple off teammate Sam Fernley.

He was named earlier this year to Baseball America magazine's pre-season Second-Team All-America squad. Carson's accomplishments give plenty of material for a master of ceremonies.

As he marches through his junior season, pro scouts will have their eye on Carson, so this could be his final year in a Cougar uniform.

The Cougars open the first full home season in newly-constructed Miller Park on March 21 when they host San Diego State who brings along its newly-named head coach Tony Gwynn. BYU hosts the MWC Tournament on May 22-25.