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Thor, the awkward teen years: How this shy, 'chubby' kid became a star athlete

Growing up in Texas, Mets star pitcher Noah Syndergaard was a late bloomer. But he knew his parents always believed in him.
/ Source: TODAY

Noah Syndergaard is a major league pitcher with a 100-mph fastball and a superhero nickname: Thor, owing to his Nordic roots, strength and flowing blonde locks.

But things weren’t always so super. Meet Thor: The Awkward Teenage Years.

“I had this summer where I’d just put on a lot of weight and I was pretty chubby for about three years or so,” the New York Mets pitcher, currently coming back from an injury, told “Girls didn’t really pay much attention to me growing up, in middle school or in high school.”

Add in the fact that he was shy as a kid growing up in Texas, and, Syndergaard said, “It was rough a little bit.”

How do you go from awkward kid to hot-shot pitcher, dubbed a “Synderella” story by Sports Illustrated? Syndergaard said his confidence comes in large part from the support of his parents, with whom the 24-year-old is still very close. Baseball, of course, was a salvation, even as he waited for his height to catch up to his weight.

Every night, his father would play ball with Syndergaard, hitting him fly balls or letting his son pitch to him until his dad’s glove hand couldn’t take any more. One thing Syndergaard remembers about those Texas nights is that his dad would always leave his phone in the car. It was just the two of them.

“I don’t know how many missed phone calls we had from my mom telling us to get home, but we just kind of got lost out there,” Syndergaard recalled.

Speaking of missed calls, Syndergaard and his parents still talk on the phone daily. “I talk to my mom probably twice a day, and my dad, maybe at least once. My mom just calls me: We might have a 30-second conversation, but it’s basically her wanting to know that I’m alive and well.”

On Twitter, where Syndergaard is active (and hilarious), he posted a throwback photo of himself on Mother’s Day with a shout-out “to all the moms who give their love freely, who still look at their adult children like a kid.”

In addition to working on a comeback that’s greatly anticipated in the world of baseball, Syndergaard is a spokesman for Cholula Hot Sauce, a taste that he says brings him right back to his childhood growing up in Texas. He's a founding member of its "Order of Cholula." While he usually sticks to lean protein, he says his favorite home-cooked comfort food is fried steak — with, of course, a healthy dose of Cholula.

Syndergaard began throwing again this week for the first time after a partial tear of his right lat muscle sidelined him in May, telling reporters afterwards that “it felt good, a solid first day.”

“Mentally it’s been pretty challenging,” he said of his injury, “but I was able to learn a lot from it and stay positive.”

He told TODAY Parents one thing that's helped with his recovery has been the work ethic he learned from his parents, and the importance of a routine. "I have to do certain things with my throwing program, my arm care, my lifting schedule," he told "They both are extremely hardworking individuals, and that was something I was able to pick up by watching them."

Asked for his advice for young pitchers (by this reporter’s baseball-loving 7-year-old son, who took a sudden interest in mom's work), Syndergaard kept it simple. “You have fun out there? Don’t stop having fun, and don’t throw a curve ball yet. Protect your arm, and just throw the fastball.”

And one last thing: “Listen to your parents.”

Follow TODAY Parents editor (and baseball mom) Rebecca Dube on Twitter.