By: J.P. Antonacci
Canadian Baseball Network
Being on the autism spectrum doesn’t stop Matt Harvey from being a baseball fan. The St. Catharines resident says that if anything, his condition allows him to learn and retain reams of information about his favourite team, the Toronto Blue Jays.
“When I was young, I just loved watching baseball. I loved stats,” Harvey said before a recent Blue Jays spring training game in Dunedin, Florida.
“I have autism, so with that, stats are something I’m really good at. I kinda got addicted to it.”
Harvey is better known to his many Twitter followers as @halladayfan32, a handle chosen in honour of former Blue Jays ace pitcher Roy Halladay.
These days his Twitter feed is full of photos of the superfan with Blue Jays players and executives taken at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, as well as a steady stream of birthday greetings to major and minor league players, comments on the Jays, and praise for players, fellow fans, and members of the sports media.
Like any passionate fan, Harvey is sometimes critical of his beloved Blue Jays. But more often than not, he takes a positive approach to his commentary, calming down despairing supporters while offering encouragement directly to players via their Twitter accounts.
“It’s so important,” the 35-year-old said of adding a positive voice to the social media landscape. “Mostly ‘cause there is so much negativity out there and I feel a positive voice is so much better.”
Harvey is a familiar presence in Dunedin, having made seven trips to the Blue Jays spring training facility. He finds it thrilling to meet minor-league prospects and star players like Jose Bautista, Marcus Stroman and Jason Grilli, while catching up with fellow fans he has befriended over the years.
“It’s amazing. I’ve been very fortunate,” Harvey said. “Who the heck expects that? It’s crazy how things change.”
Things were not always so rosy for Harvey, who was bullied as a child and teenager due to his autism, which wasn’t diagnosed until adulthood.
“When I was in high school, I just didn’t understand what was going on,” he said of his condition, which he treats through medication. “I’ve been through some rough times when I was younger, with the whole unawareness of myself. I feel a lot better (now).”
In 2013, then-Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia learned of the bullying Harvey had endured, and his dedication to the team. Arencibia reached out on social media and gave Harvey two tickets to the team’s home opener, and the story was picked up by the CBC.
“Twitter has some negatives, but the benefits are a lot better,” Harvey said with a smile.
For the past decade, Harvey has worked pushing carts at Real Canadian Superstore in St Catharines, a job he said he enjoys for the exercise. He has noticed more awareness and acceptance of people with autism in recent years.
“You can overcome obstacles – you’ve just got to think positive,” he said.
Looking ahead to the season – he expects to get to four or five games at Rogers Centre – Harvey is his usual optimistic self.
“I think they have a really good team. I like that they improved their bullpen a lot. The depth they got with Joe Smith and J.P. Howell, it’s really important,” he said.
“Bautista’s my buddy. I met him a few times, he’s a good guy, and I’m happy to have him back. Kendrys Morales is underrated. He got 30 home runs in Kansas City, which is impressive.”
Reflecting on what lessons he takes from the game of baseball, Harvey talked about recognizing the value of each player.
“It’s a team game. You can be the best player of all, but you have to have other guys helping you out,” he said.
“It’s a 25-man roster. Whether it’s the first starter or the fifth starter, everybody has to do something. The first starter very well might fall apart and have a bad game, but that’s why you have your teammates to pick you up.”
That’s a lesson Harvey would apply to life as well.