Johnny “Blue Shoes” Matusik knows how to hustle. He’s heard it time after time, from parents as well as coaches, and it’s become something of a personal motto: “hustle, play hard, and you’ll get your opportunities.”
The 19-year-old Plano graduate is now putting this philosophy to the test for the Texas Heat, one of the four Texas teams that make up the Continental Baseball League (CBL), an independent league in its inaugural season.
Matusik, who was signed by Navarro College in Corsicana on a football scholarship as a deep snapper, thought he would play both football and baseball for the school, having done so at Plano.
“When football ended in November, I went to baseball and when I got there, the coach already had his roster,” Matusik said. “He kept me around until January, but he told me I wouldn’t be able to travel with the team, so I went back to football.”
Even with things looking bleak in the baseball world, Matusik knew he had somewhere to turn.
“I had a broken spirit,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was going to do, but my mom has always been there. I was upset at the time, but I knew my mom would try to find something for me.”
And Mary Matusik came through. Although the CBL had already held its tryouts, Mrs. Matusik found a last-chance tryout and told her son about it.
At that tryout, Matusik and four other players made it to the spring training team. After spring training, Matusik received a final spot on the roster as an outfielder.
With her son starting for the Heat, Mrs. Matusik calls this “a Cinderella story.”
“It’s something that he’s wanted to do since he was a little boy,” she said. “And for your son to do that, it’s just the greatest feeling.”
Another family story is that of the “Blue Shoes” nickname.
“In eighth grade, I was on the basketball team at Rice Middle School, and I had a pair of shoes that were all blue,” Matusik said. “In the first game, I ended up making a half court shot at the end of the first quarter. My grandfather was there and he yelled out ‘Johnny Blue Shoes!’ All my friends were there and the name kind of stuck.”
In high school, Matusik decided to pursue baseball and football, but he did not make the baseball team in his freshman year. Matusik tried out again his sophomore year and was successful.
David Allen, former Plano coach, says that Matusik was “a pleasure” to work with.
“He also played football, but he came out during the fall, before school, to practice,” said Allen, who is now coaching youth baseball and working in real estate. “He really made the most of the talent that he had.”
According to Allen, Matusik’s love for and commitment to the game is what made him a unique player.
“There are a lot of people who work hard, but he loved to work hard,” Allen said. “Even with the monotony of doing the same things over, he still loved it, and maybe that’s because he knew he would get better.”
Allen, who heard from Matusik about his Texas Heat signing the day after it occurred, sees it as an opportunity for growth.
“It’ll help him understand the finer points of the game,” he said. “There are things up there at a higher speed than the high school and college level, and he gets to experience those things.”
Matusik, who grew up with older brother Mickey and younger sister Katie, was part of an athletic family. Mickey, part of the Air Force, played high school football, and Katie, a Spring Creek Academy student, is a gymnast.
This dedication to sports was highly encouraged by Matusik’s father Mike.
“I think that it’s tremendously important,” Mr. Matusik said of childhood athletics. “Being on a team teaches camaraderie, responsibility and leadership, and it keeps you off the streets and doing good things.”
Matusik’s father was one of the factors shaping his ‘never-give-up’ attitude.
“He’s never been part of the elite baseball and football crowd, but I told him to keep his head up,” Mr. Matusik said. “Life isn’t always fair, and you’ve got to keep persevering.”
And that’s what Matusik plans to do.
“I’ve always aspired to be a professional sports player,” he said. “I’m always looking to play stronger and better.”
But Matusik is slow to leave behind his hustler mentality.
“It’s going to take a lot of work,” he quickly adds.