Six years ago, Matt Adams smacked a game-winning hit off the Point Stadium screen in left-center field playing in front of an estimated 7,000 fans – the largest crowd he’d played in front at that juncture of his baseball career.
Last week, Adams ripped a towering two-run homer to effectively seal the St. Louis Cardinals’ 6-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the decisive fifth game of the National League Divisional Series in front of 47,231 fans at Busch Stadium.
“It’s something all the young kids dream about, showing up to the field and walking out of the tunnel and having 50,000 plus fans screaming,” said Adams, a former Altoona Johnston Realty AAABA standout who now plays first base for the Cards. “It’s super loud and it’s really fun to go out there on the field and to be able to be a part of it.”
Adams and the Cardinals are only two wins away from advancing to the World Series after taking a pair of one-run games against the Los Angeles Dodgers and their one-two combination of aces Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke.
St. Louis advanced to the NLCS at the expense of the Pirates, who had ended a string of 20 consecutive losing seasons and made Bucs’ baseball relevant again while winning over the region’s baseball fans this summer.
Cardinals’ pitcher Adam Wainwright had stifled Pittsburgh’s hitters in Game 5. The left-handed hitting Adams put a figurative exclamation point on St. Louis’ evening with a no-doubt homer in the bottom of the eighth.
“It was awesome hitting it and knowing it was gone as soon as I hit it,” said Adams, who batted .316 in the NLDS. “The stadium erupted. Touching first base and hearing the fireworks go off, rounding the bases and going to the dugout and being surrounded by my teammates was cool.
"But I knew we had to go out and get three outs and win the ballgame.”
Adams made his major league debut in 2012, appearing in 27 games. This year he played 108 regular-season games, batting .284 with 17 homers and 51 RBIs.
His role expanded on Sept. 4, when starting first baseman Allen Craig rolled his ankle against Cincinnati.
As a replacement in that game, Adams hit home runs in the 14th and 16th innings of a 5-4 win.
With Craig out, Adams became a regular in the Cardinals’ lineup.
“It stunk that Allen had to get hurt and that’s how I had to play every day,” Adams said. “But I took the opportunity and just ran with it. I worked hard in spring training to get where I am this year. I’m just trusting my abilities.”
Those skills just might land Adams in the World Series.
Not bad for a 25-year-old who got his start in Philipsburg and made a name for himself in the AAABA Tournament.
“That league is good. The Altoona team was really good, and (former manager) Kurt Farabaugh and (current manager) Mel Curtis did a great job of getting everybody in the area to play on that team,” Adams said. “The AAABA Tournament helped me out big time. We played against guys coming in from all over who are really good ballplayers. They use wood bats. It took my game to the next level.”
And what about that walk-off hit against Johnstown in front of the 2007 opening-night crowd?
“That was an awesome experience,” Adams said. “We were young. We came from such a small area and the ballgames don’t get that many fans. Being able to go out there and play (at Point Stadium) was awesome. We drew the night game against Johnstown. That was the first time that I’ve ever been in front of a crowd of more than a couple hundred.”