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Minuteman's time comes at No. 31

PITTSFIELD -- Matt Torra and his family huddled nervously around the computer at their summer home in Lanesborough on Lake Pontoosuc yesterday, eagerly awaiting the flash of his name on the screen. The anxious group knew Matt, a Pittsfield native and a junior at the University of Massachusetts, would be chosen in the Major League Baseball draft. The only question was when.

Suddenly horns and car alarms sounded. They were coming from the house of the Levys, the Torras' neighbors. Torra's older brother J.T. bolted outside.

''Hey, please quiet down," he told the neighbors and family friends. ''We're trying to follow the draft."

''What do you mean?" came the confused response. ''They picked him!"

Turns out the Levys, using a high-speed Internet connection as opposed to the Torras' dial-up modem, had heard the news first. Torra, a righthanded pitcher, was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks with the 31st overall pick in yesterday's draft.

Torra, the first supplemental pick between Rounds 1 and 2, was the highest New Englander chosen. Boston College pitcher Mike Wlodarczyk was picked in the seventh round by Tampa Bay.

''It's an honor to go that high in the draft," said Torra, standing on the front steps of Pittsfield High School before a gathering of family, friends, well-wishers, and media. ''I'm really happy to be able to go through this right now."

After the neighborly confusion, the Torras began celebrating by the lake. The phone rang seconds later, with Diamondbacks area scout Matt Merullo on the other end to congratulate Torra.

Torra, who leads the nation with 1.14 ERA and was named Atlantic 10 Pitcher of the Year, will likely start out with Arizona's short-season Single A affiliate in Yakima, Wash., whose season begins June 21. That's where most college draftees begin when picked by the Diamondbacks, according to Torra's adviser and family attorney, James Masteralexis.

His stay there could be brief, though. Masteralexis said several teams told him that Torra is advanced enough that after five professional starts he could wind up in Double A.

When he gets there, Torra will be playing in the same minor league system as Frank Curreri, his catcher at UMass during his sophomore season. Torra called Curreri first after finding out his new employer. Since Curreri began in rookie ball and was injured during spring training, though, it's unlikely the battery will be reunited.

If nothing else, the Diamondbacks will have a diligent worker when Torra heads west. He started working at his father's construction company, Jim's Building and Remodeling, at age 11. In four years at Pittsfield High, he didn't miss a day of school, even when his mother pleaded with him to stay home with a cold.

''He just always loved to work," said Pat Torra, an elementary school teacher.

That showed throughout his career at UMass, where Torra went from a moderately recruited righty to a first-rounder. His stock skyrocketed after he began utilizing a changeup he worked hard to develop last offseason.

''He's put so much time and work into that, he deserves it," J.T. Torra said. ''He's been really serious the past couple years. He's been a teenager and he hangs out with his friends, but he's been really dedicated himself to accomplishing his goal. That's really what sets him apart."

''My parents raised me that way," said Torra. ''They always told me to work hard and never slack."

It's that attitude that has endeared him to the citizens of Pittsfield, a city of roughly 50,000 with a small-town feel. Even the best athletes from Berkshire County rarely make it past college, so Torra has become somewhat of a mini-celebrity.

For weeks, people have stopped Jim on the street to ask about his son. Yesterday, Torra signed some baseballs for a couple of Little Leaguers and posed for a picture with a pair of little girls. He wore a large grin the whole time.

''He was just a great kid," said JoAnne Soules, Pittsfield High's vice principal and formerly Torra's teacher. ''He's truly a genuine, nice boy. A lot of people are glad to see a nice guy succeed. He never had that ego that athletes often have. He's the kind of kid you enjoy having around."

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