Back in May, Matt Koperniak was anticipating spending his first summer in professional baseball in Florida. Plans change.
Koperniak, who graduated from Hoosac Valley and from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., was promoted by the St. Louis Cardinals organization from its Low Class A team in Jupiter, Fla., to its High A team in Peoria, Ill.
“It was a little bit” of a surprise, Koperniak said. “They had already moved a couple of guys, so you never know.”
The former Hurricane had signed with the Cardinals in 2020 after the five-round Major League Baseball draft. He did not get a chance to play that year, as Minor League Baseball had shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Koperniak and Palm Beach Cardinals teammate Tommy Jew were both assigned to Peoria on Aug. 1.
“I’m pretty excited,” Koperniak said in a phone interview with The Eagle from Peoria, where he arrived on Sunday. “Just getting the opportunity to play with the Cardinals was great. Having a good first year is a good feeling, because it can definitely be a grind. It’s good to get off to a good start.”
When Koperniak moved up, he was hitting .320 for Palm Beach with four home runs and 23 runs batted in. He played in 56 games, and was 58 for 181 at the plate, striking out only 32 times in those 181 at-bats. He walked 30 times.
His on-base percentage was a solid .442 and his slugging percentage was .470. That equals an OPS of .912.
“It took a couple of weeks, I think, just to try and get used to the competition, and just get my timing down,” he said. “It took a little time to get used to the heat too, getting used to playing in Florida.”
Koperniak’s batting averaged hovered between about .280 and .330 for his entire time with the Palm Beach Cardinals. One thing is for sure, he closed out his Forida tenure in a big way.
In his last 10 games, Koperniak was 11 for 31 (.354) with three runs scored and five runs batted in. He had a huge game in Jupiter on July 21, going 2 for 5 with four RBI in a 6-5 loss to the Jupiter Hammerheads. The Cardinals and Miami Marlins share Jupiter as a home base for their Low-A clubs. Koperniak hit a two-run homer in the third inning of that game.
Koperniak was an infielder at Trinity and with the North Adams SteepleCats, but has made the transition well to playing the outfield for the Cardinals.
He had played in 56 games for Palm Beach. Twenty-five of those games, he was in the lineup in left field, 18 in right and 12 in center. Three times, Koperniak was the designated hitter.
Koperniak made three errors in the outfield in those 56 games, one at each position. He had five outfield assists. His best position, statistically, was left field, as he had a fielding percentage of .980. His fielding percentage in right was .978, and in center it was .941.
“My coach brought me into [the office], and the head of player development was there,” Koperniak said. “He told me that I was going up to Peoria the next day.”
The St. Louis director of Player Development is Connecticut native Gary LaRocque who was the scouting director for the New York Mets beginning in 1998. That time coincided with the Pittsfield Mets playing at Wahconah Park.
Koperniak was a first-team, All-NECBL pick at designated hitter in 2019. He was third in the league with a .376 batting average and seventh overall with 37 RBI. He hit five home runs and had 15 doubles. In 2018, he hit .318 with a home run and 24 RBI.
He is trying to be the first Berkshire County baseball player to make the Major Leagues since Jonah Bayliss made his big league debut with Kansas City in 2005. Coincidentally, both Koperniak and Bayliss went to Trinity.
In addition, Koperniak would be the first baseball player from within the Adams-Cheshire School District to make a big league club since Dale Long came up with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1951.
The Chiefs head to Indiana to start a Tuesday-through-Saturday series with the South Bend Cubs. Peoria will return home the next week for a six-game series with the Cedar Rapids Kernels. Peoria will play until Sept. 19, finishing the season with another six-game set against Cedar Rapids.
Koperniak said he does not know what the rest of 2021 holds for him. He did, however, say that he isn’t expecting to pack his bags until the end of the High-A Midwest season.
“Probably,” he said. “To be honest, you never know what’s going to happen. Yeah, I think I’ll be here for the rest of the season.”
Originally Appeared Here