By BRIAN CUNNIFF
For the past few years, Matt Szczur has had to battle to make an opening day major league roster. Each time, he’s succeeded.
Szczur, a 2007 graduate of Lower Cape May Regional High School, will be in uniform at Petco Park in San Diego Thursday afternoon when the Padres host the Milwaukee Brewers. Game time is 4:10 p.m. EDT.
Szczur, who can play all three outfield positions, was slowed by an abdominal strain early in spring training and only appeared in 15 games. He batted .240 with three home runs and seven RBI in 25 at bats.
Szczur is considered a valuable backup outfielder because of his ability to pinch hit, run and play defense. He also had an advantage over several other young outfielders vying for a spot on the Padres’ roster since he was out of minor league options, meaning Szczur would have had to pass through waivers if the Padres attempted to send him to the minor leagues.
Szczur began his professional baseball career with the Chicago Cubs organization. After being drafted by the Cubs in 2010, he made his major league debut in 2014 and spent parts of four seasons in Chicago, including the entire 2016 season when the team won the World Series.
Szczur was traded to the Padres early last season. He takes a career batting average of .237 with 11 home runs, 55 RBI and 122 runs scored into this season.
Szczur has also developed a reputation as a good teammate and solid contributor to the community. He has been involved in numerous charitable endeavors in Chicago, San Diego and in the Cape May County area, much of it through his work in raising awareness and funding for the Be The Match bone marrow donation program. While a two-sport athlete at Villanova, Szczur donated bone marrow to help save the life of a young girl with leukemia from Ukraine.
Szczur hosts a dinner each winter in Cape May that raises money for the Be The Match program and other local charities. Last winter he also held a rowing competition at a local fitness center to raise money and awareness for bone marrow donation. Also a budding artist, Szczur has raised money for various charities through some of his artwork over the past few years.
Following a brilliant baseball and football career at Lower Cape May, Szczur starred in the same two sports at Villanova. He earned Most Valuable Player honors after leading the Wildcats to the 2009 national football championship and was also named a Big East all-star in baseball.
Szczur rushed for more than 1,000 yards in football and batted .681 in baseball as a senior at Lower Cape May.