Friday, May 8, 2009

Columbus Dispatch: A chip off two old blocks

Matt Streng was going to be a baseball player, his dad made sure of it

Friday, May 8, 2009 3:13 AM
By Mark Znidar


Matt Streng was 2 days old when people couldn't help but notice that he was different from the other babies in the Riverside Methodist Hospital nursery.

His father, a New York Yankees fan, former Ohio State baseball player and high school baseball coach, sent out a different type of birth announcement.

"I put Matt in a baseball uniform," Terry Streng said. "He even had a baseball cap. I wanted Matt to be a baseball player. I didn't want him wearing one of those silly beanies."

As part of his grand plan, Terry had Matt learn how to switch-hit shortly after he could swing a bat.

Streng, a sophomore from Upper Arlington who has become a power-hitting first baseman for Ohio State, relishes throwing playful digs at his father's obsession with the game and his development.

"I didn't have a choice, really -- it was going to be baseball all the way," he said, laughing. "I was switch-hitting at 3 years old. I didn't need anyone to push me, though. I've always loved the game. I grew up hearing baseball stories from my father and grandfather. There have been so many great stories. It has been all good."

Some of the best stories come from grandfather Gene Streng. He played one year of minor league baseball for the St. Louis Browns and for several teams in the Navy against major leaguers Ted Williams and Johnny Sain.

Matt is making his own name by batting .328 with eight home runs and 31 RBI for an Ohio State team that trails Illinois by one game and Minnesota by a half-game going into a three-game series tonight at Illinois.

Streng became the starting first baseman in a roundabout way. He was a shortstop in high school, but didn't have the range to play the position in college.

Injuries created a hole at third base and coach Bob Todd shifted senior Justin Miller from first base to third.

Enter Streng.

"We saw a lot of potential in Matt as a hitter in high school, but the big question was finding a position for him," Todd said. "We tried him in the outfield and then at first base. He has done nicely. He's an aggressive player and has a good approach to things."

Genetics have played a role. Gene played Class B ball for Fostoria in 1941 before becoming a Navy pilot at the beginning of World War II.

Grandpa gets to as many Buckeyes games as he can.

"I followed Terry through Little League, high school and Ohio State and now I'm doing the same with Matt," he said. "Not many grandparents get a chance to do this. I'm really enjoying this."

Terry played outfield for Ohio State from 1970 to '73 and was excited when Matt signed with the Buckeyes rather than Kentucky or Toledo.

Now that he has retired from teaching, dad follows his son almost everywhere. He was at East for 17 years and Northland for 18 as a physical education and health teacher and coached baseball, volleyball, girls basketball and golf.

"I quit coaching high school once Matt reached middle school because I wanted to watch him," Terry said. "I haven't missed his games, and that goes back to t-ball and coach pitch. Your kids do look for you in the stands at games. The great thing was Denny Martin put me on his staff at Upper Arlington when Matt played baseball. That was special."

It was Matt's goal to follow his father and play for Ohio State.

"I wanted to wear this uniform so bad," he said. "I was never more excited than when I was offered a scholarship. I worked hard to get here. It was nonstop baseball. My father taught me to hustle all the time and act a certain way off the field."

Making the team at Ohio State and playing are entirely different, and Streng had to elbow his way into the lineup.

"I was kind of a shortstop and kind of a third baseman and kind of an outfielder," he said. "I had never played first base until last season. It's a lot different, but it wasn't too hard of a transition."

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