Matthew Mebane’s teammates still call him Pablo, and he still lives to hit home runs.
But he’s not hitting them in North Augusta anymore.
Matthew and his family have moved to Hilton Head Island, where the eighth-grader just completed his first season with the Hilton Head High School junior varsity baseball team and posted the second-highest batting average — .471 in 57 at-bats.
He’s also headed back to Major League Baseball’s Junior Home Run Derby, where he won the 12-and-under trophy last year. This year, as a 13-year-old he’ll bat in the 14-and-under division during All-Star Week at the Marlins’ stadium in Miami.
He misses his North Augusta friends, but still gets back to area pretty often, playing on travel teams the Augusta Bats and the Diamond Dawgs.
Last week, the Dawgs came to Aiken to play the Carolina Prospects. Matthew hit a grand-slam in the first game and a homer and a triple in the second.
Because this year’s MLB derby is much closer to home — Miami instead of Arizona — dad Frank and mom Betsy will both go with him, and he’s hoping some of his Bats teammates will come along, too.
He’s looking forward to the competition but acknowledged that he’s had to work harder this year than last.
His mom said his competitors at the regional in Atlanta were mostly 14-year-olds and some were bigger than Matthew, who wears a size 13 shoe.
“I named one of them King Kong and another one King Kong Jr.,” she said.
Matthew finished third in the first round and advanced with the top four batters.
In the first two rounds, each batter got 20 pitches from a pitching machine.
Matthew hit four home runs, but was down to three pitches, needing two more homers to tie or three to win. He hit two more homers and one ball that drifted foul, for the tie.
He and the other finalist then went head-to-head in a 10-pitch hit-off. Matthew won it 6-3.
The derby is scheduled for July 8, and Matthew says he’s ready.
“I’ll only have to beat seven instead of 35,” he said.
Reach James Folker at (706) 823-3338 or firstname.lastname@example.org