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BHS slugger leads the ‘Jackets in Giambi, Bonds fashion

By Nathan FoxDaily Planet Correspondent
Tuesday April 02, 2002

Matt Toma is a home run king. Last spring as a junior, Toma led his Berkeley High School Yellowjackets squad in long balls. He is not without some measure of pride when he says this. 

Toma tells me about his 2001 home run crown, conjuring images of recently departed Jason Giambi leading his Oakland Athletics last year with 38 bombs, and of Barry Bonds (of course) leading his San Francisco Giants (and the rest of the planet) with a staggering 73. Bonds, Giambi, Toma — the big boppers of the Bay Area. 

But Toma is uncharacteristically sheepish when asked how many dingers it took to lead his team last season. 

That’s because the number is two. 

Berkeley coach Tim Moellering laughs when told this story. 

“Well, he is smart,” says Moellering. “But to his credit, he could have had more. He hit a couple long balls at places without fences.” 

Those must have been some deep drives. Doubles, triples - couldn’t Toma have beaten any of the relay throws all the way around the bases for inside-the-park home runs? 

“No,” says Moellering. 

Toma is a catcher. A first baseman. A cleanup hitter. Draw your own conclusions about Toma’s speed but at 6-foot and 210 pounds, Toma is also an offensive guard – he started there for the Yellowjackets this fall, and filled in at defensive tackle as well. Next fall Toma will attend a Division II or III school, where he will likely play both sports.  

“I could probably play a higher level baseball,” says Toma, “but my size restricts me from playing offensive guard at that level. I’m being pretty heavily recruited for baseball at Pomona College and Amherst College, and I’m also looking at a small college in southern Wisconsin — Beloit — and at UC San Diego.” 

Toma’s girlfriend, Berkeley High second baseman Emily Friedman, will be heading to the University of Wisconsin at Madison on a softball scholarship. 

Toma, an excellent student, intends to pursue political science, government, or pre-law. Moellering thinks that Toma’s decision on a lower-level college is a wise one. 

“I think he could be a Division I hitter,” says Moellering. “But choosing somewhere that he'll be able to play, and that is also a good academic institution, is a very intelligent and mature decision on his part. I think he’ll be able to play football and baseball at any one of them.” 

Toma, who was a unanimous first-team all-leaguer in football this year, and third-team All-East Bay, wants to keep playing football but says that baseball is still his favorite sport – “by far.” 

During last season’s playoffs, Berkeley faced Deer Valley’s Dan Denham in the first round, giving Toma his toughest test to date. Denham, who became the 15th overall pick in the major league draft in June, has a 94-mph fastball and is now a top pitching prospect in the Cleveland Indians ball club. Denham bulldozed the Yellowjackets, 4-0, but Toma was one for three with a line-drive single to right field – an at-bat he treasures as a highlight of his prep career. 

“It was fun facing somebody at that level,” says Toma. “It was amazing to learn that I could hit against somebody like that.” 

Yes - Toma can hit. He hit .400 on the nose last year, with a Giambi-esque .493 on-base percentage. And perhaps most impressively, he struck out in league exactly as often as he went deep – only twice. 

“It’s pretty rare to find a power hitter who doesn't strike out very often,” says Moellering. “He can spray the ball all over the diamond, and has power the opposite way. He doesn’t have a weak spot.” 

Toma hopes that his production in the cleanup spot will help boost the ‘Jackets to a league title. 

“It's just a matter of playing to our full potential,” says Toma. We should be able to beat any team we play - whether or not we do is up to the baseball gods.” 

Hopefully the baseball gods will keep smiling on Matt Toma. If they do, Barry Bonds might want to look over his shoulder. Toma is at two – and counting.