Older brother helped push Purke
When Matthew Purke made the U.S. 16-and-Under Team two years ago, he did what many would do. Purke bought a U.S. Baseball hat and brought it home, proud of his achievement.
By Anthony Tynan
|August 18, 2008
When his older brother, Jason, saw the hat, he made sure that it would not gather any dust on the family mantle.
"I told him he would train in that hat," Jason said.
Rather than gathering dust, the hat has gathered sweat as Matthew trained in the summer heat. Instead of admiring the hat, it served as a symbol of the dedication it takes for Matthew to keep his body conditioned for elite levels of baseball, including an appearance at the Under Armour All-America Game.
The Purke family is a family of basketball players, but it was clear at an early age that Matthew was cut out for baseball. To help Matthew grow into a pitcher's body, his brother Jason, now 26, put him through punishing workout routines.
"I always made him work really, really hard, a lot harder than other kids his age," Jason said. "Other people told me, 'You're going to burn him out.' I said, 'No, he's different. He likes to practice.'"
As young as 11 years old, Jason had split the field and had Matthew sprinting down and back.
"He taught me hard work, technique and work ethic," Matthew said.
"He always took the level that I placed the workout and then pushed himself even harder," Jason said.
Today, Purke continues to go about baseball with an appreciation for the value of physical training. While running is still the biggest part of his routine, Purke puts himself through a rigorous workout as he tries to add muscle throughout this summer.
Purke may take his strong physical approach to the field with him, but he is absorbed in the game at all times on the mound. One way he channels his mentality is by sprinting to and from the mound.
"It's his way of getting pumped," Jason said. "He plays it like the old boys. That's what the old boys did and he's not above the game."
Workouts and bullpen sessions with Jason are not the only thing Matthew has done with his summers. He has been coached by Angelina J.C. coach Jeff Livin since he was 11. Since then, Purke has gotten better and better.
"I go back to his makeup," Livin said. "He never took anything for granted. He's got a real good grasp on what it takes to succeed at higher levels."
Purke credits Livin with developing his pitching mechanics.
"He taught me the right way to deliver the pitch and at what time to throw what pitches," Purke said. "He helped me to understand what hitters are looking for."
By the time Purke reached Klein (Texas) High, his coach, Barry Smith, knew Purke was something special right away.
"You could tell (as a high school freshman) just how he throws that he's real effortless," Smith said. "It's almost like he was born with a baseball in his hand."
Despite Purke's status as one of the top prep lefthanders in the 2009 class, Smith is impressed by Purke's team-first philosophy, a stance taken despite all the radar guns pointed at his left arm.
"He's a great teammate. All the kids love him" Smith said. "Most of his goals are team-oriented, which I think is rare for a kid of his talent."
Purke throws his fastball at 89-92 mph and mixes it with two other plus pitches. His curveball registers in the upper-70s with good bite and his changeup tops out at 80. As one of the key members of the 18-and-under rotation, Purke pitched well in the IBAF World Junior Championships, but had an inopportune rough outing.
Against Mexico in pool play, Purke pitched a complete game shutout, striking out 11, walking none and allowing just four hits. But in the championship game against Korea, he was touched up for six runs on eight hits in four innings. He finished the tournament with a 1-1, 4.15 record and 18 strikeouts in 13 innings.
Meanwhile, Purke's mentality already shows maturity, as it allows him to tune out the many scouts that track seemingly his every move.
"I know they're there, but I try to play my game and play it simple," Purke said.
The radar guns were again pointed in his direction when Purke appeared in the Under Armour game, aware of its higher profile in 2008. But heading into the game, Purke wasn't fazed.
"It makes it more of an honor for me to play," Purke said. "For a high school kid to play on a major league field, it (will be) the best feeling ever."