Matt Wilson knows a thing or two about facing adversity at a very young age.
Before the Highland Park senior pitcher was even 2, he had already gone through two surgeries because of a rare condition called symbrachydactyly that caused the fingers on his right hand, with the exception of his thumb, to be webbed together. Those fingers are now separated but are three-quarters of the size of the ones on his left hand.
“My nickname my freshman year was Nemo because of that,” Wilson said with a smile. “I embraced it. It’s all in good fun.”
And just like that famous animated clown fish, Wilson made the best of a tough situation. As soon as he was old enough to start learning sports, he made himself learn how to throw left-handed, despite being naturally right-handed. In fact, he still does everything else with his right hand.
“Seeing him put under the anesthetic was the toughest thing,” said Jane Wilson, Matt’s mother. “His surgeon said if he was naturally right-handed, he would do his fine motor with his right hand and his gross motor with his left. As a 6-month-old sitting on the floor, he would pick up a ball with his right hand and transfer it to his left because he could hold it better. You would see him do it over and over.”
Now, Matt is an absolutely dominant force on the mound who has signed to pitch for Oklahoma State University. He is 4-3 this season with an 0.84 ERA, 55 strikeouts, and eight walks. And Matt has surrendered just four earned runs, including only one in district play.
“When you’ve got a kid like Matt and the ability he has, you know he’s going to give you a chance to win every time he goes out,” Scots baseball head coach Fred Oliver said. “It doesn’t mean we will win, but he’s going to give us a chance. We’ve got to do our part and play good defense behind him because people are going to hit him.
“We can’t expect him to shoulder all of the responsibility of going out and striking out everybody and keeping them to no runs all of the time.”
Matt’s dad, David, was a multi-sport athlete at Houston’s St. Pius X High School, while his brother Clark played baseball for the Scots until he graduated in 2010. Matt started pitching when he was 8. By the time he got to high school, he also played basketball.
“His character — he’s got to be on my top five all time,” Scots head basketball coach David Piehler said of Matt. “He’s just solid. I love that kid. He’s the best.”
In addition to what he brings in terms of performance, Matt has been vital to both teams as a captain. In fact, he and second baseman Dylan May are the only two players on the roster that had any varsity experience heading into this season.
“It’s been a challenge,” May said. “We really feel like we can help these other guys. It’s fun to see them grow with the experience they get. Since our sophomore year, we’ve dreamed of being captains. Now we finally get to do it, and it’s exciting. We’ve always been good friends. It’s fun to play defense behind Matt.”
Having already signed with the Cowboys was also big for Matt, who went 6-1 with a 1.64 ERA and 67 strikeouts last season, when he was the District 10-4A Pitcher of the Year.
“[Signing] definitely took some pressure off,” he said. “Now I can just go out there and focus on winning the game and not having to impress anybody in the stands. That’s always a relief. Each year I’ve had some steady improvement and have gotten better with age. My body’s maturing and getting a lot stronger. I attribute a lot of that to working out more — especially in the off-season — and getting a lot stronger, so that’s helping me throw harder.”
Highland Park is still in position to win the district title. The Scots (12-13, 6-2) are just one game behind first-place Forney, which hosts them at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Despite tieing for second in District 10-4A last season, Highland Park made it to the third round of the playoffs.
“We’re definitely looking to go that far, if not farther,” Matt said. “We had a lot of injuries early, so it was hard to develop that camaraderie early.
“That’s coming together, our defense is playing well, and things are turning around at the right time.”
With Matt at their disposal, there’s no telling just how far Highland Park can go. And the Scots don’t even want to think about where they would be had they not found “Nemo.”
“I’ll definitely be excited to see him pitching for my alma mater,” Oliver said. “He’s our bell cow. He’s the guy leading us.”