Welcome home, sailor!

U.S. Navy reservist has surprise reunion with his kids before Tobs game Tuesday

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Master Chief Petty Officer Craig DeMattia of the U.S. Navy Reserve made a surprise early homecoming for his young children: Eillen, 6, and Jack, 8, before Tuesday's Wilson Tobs game at Fleming Stadium. DeMattia, who has been deployed off the coast of Africa since May 2017, dressed as a Tobs catcher and caught the ceremonial first pitches thrown by Eillen and Jack before removing his catcher's mask and stunning his children.
Paul Durham | Times

Craig DeMattia took a quick second to compose himself after catching the ceremonial first pitches before the Wilson Tobs’ home game Tuesday evening at Fleming Stadium.

The 45-year-old Wilson resident hadn’t worn a baseball uniform in more than three decades and his knees were a little suspect after decades of serving in the U.S. Navy. However, the Master Chief Petty Officer serving in the U.S. Navy Reserve was shaking because of who was waiting on the mound for him — his 8-year-old son, Jack, and 6-year-old daughter, Eillen — after throwing the first pitches. The youngsters hadn’t seen him in more than a year and had no idea the guy in the Tobs uniform and catcher’s mask was their father.

“It was actually harder to stand up once I got up, but it wasn’t because of my bad knees. It was because I was shaking so bad,” DeMattia admitted later.

Once they realized they could believe their eyes, Jack and Eillen rushed towards their father for a long-awaited hug.

“It was a very big surprise!” Jack said. “I didn’t know it was him until he came over.”

Eillen just grinned and assured, “I was really excited!”

The surprise reunion was put together by DeMattia’s wife, Nell.

“One of our favorite pastimes in Wilson is going to Tobs games!” she said.

So she contacted Tobs general manager Mike Bell to see if they could pull it off and Bell was more than happy to make it happen.

Craig DeMattia actually arrived home in Wilson on Saturday but was “hiding out” at the home of Cliff and Lisa Lewin. Cliff Lewin is the pastor of the church the DeMattias attend, Wilson Praise and Worship. As part of the ruse, Jack and Eillen were told they had won a “first-pitch contest.”

The DeMattias were surrounded by friends and family, including Craig’s parents, Bill and Brenda DeMattia, who came from their home in Pensacola, Florida, and Nell’s brother, Joe Prickett and his daughters Caroline and Cammy, who live in Marietta, Georgia.

The DeMattias moved to Wilson in 2005, five years after Craig was discharged honorably from active duty. He began his career in the Navy in 1994, serving on board the USS South Carolina, a nuclear cruiser based in Norfolk, Virginia. The son of a retired Master Chief, Craig joined the U.S. Naval Reserves immediately after leaving active duty. He was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2011. He was promoted to Chief Petty Officer in 2012, Senior Chief Petty Officer in 2015 and to Master Chief in 2018. DeMattia left Wilson in May 2017 for duty off the Horn of Africa.

DeMattia, who looked at home in a Tobs uniform, assured that he was excited to not be wearing his Navy uniform for the time being.

“It feels good to be out of the uniform and in some shorts and not in some 125-degree heat,” he said.

For now, he’s home for a while.

“I can do something in between if I want to, but for now I’ll just go back to drilling as a reservist and maybe deploy in a couple more years,” he said.

DeMattia looks forward to life at home. Eillen will be in second grade at Greenfield School this year and Jack is homeschooled. Nell DeMattia works for Fiserv, a financial services company, while Craig, when he’s at home, is “supposed to be a stay-at-home dad,” Nell said with a laugh.

Now he is again.