It wasn’t until Cristian Matos got back on the bus with his victorious Team USA 12U teammates that the reality of what occurred truly started to sink in.
The 12-year-old Belleville native had gone halfway across the world to Taiwan, hit three home runs, picked up a win in relief and his team stormed to a WBSC U-12 Baseball World Cup Championship.
“Once we won the gold I was really excited,” Matos said. “I was in the moment and really hyped. But after we got on the bus and went back to the hotel it really sunk in what had happened.
“It was a lot of pressure, especially with a bunch of good teams and a bunch of close games. When I was at bat, there were moments where I had to step out and breathe, take a moment to regroup and focus.”
Judging by his results on the field, Matos is already quite well at adapting to pressure. He slugged his first home run on July 29 in a win over the Czech Republic. The next day, he pitched two scoreless innings of relief to earn the win against Japan. A day later, in his first start at catcher, he went 2-for-3 with a home run into the trees beyond the right field fence.
Matos struck again on Aug. 3, this time a game-tying, pinch hit home run with one out in the bottom of the final inning against Mexico.
“Every day I woke up and I was just locked in,” said Matos, who went 4-for-8 with five RBI and four runs scored in the seven-game tournament. “We came to the field and there we had to be locked in, focused and pay attention to what the pitcher throws.”
While Matos and his team had a clear goal at hand in Taiwan, there were opportunities for the group to enjoy their time away from home, most notably when they were given tours around the cities of Taipei and Tainan.
“We had one day, they called it Cultural Day where we went around Taipei and Tainan and explored a little bit,” Matos said. “We went to museums and some shops and got to look around, have fun and see what they do.”
Matos and the team returned to the United States lat Monday when they flew from Taiwan to California. He then went back to New Jersey, but wasn’t in the Garden State for long as the entire Matos family is now in North Carolina as part of USA Baseball’s National Team Identification Series.
Cristian’s older brother, Rafi, a rising sophomore at Belleville High School, participated in the 15U/16U tryouts, which went from this past Wednesday to Sunday. Starting this coming Wednesday, Cristian will be back at, competing in the 12U/14U tryouts.
A week later, Nutley native Anthony Huaranga makes the trip to Cary, N.C., for the 11U/13U National Team Identification Series that goes from Aug. 24-28.
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)