Catching Your Way to The Big Leagues with Matt Walbeck
Welcome to The Baseball Awakening Podcast, where we dive into the raw, unfiltered, unsexy side of player development
Matt Walbeck is the former MLB Catcher for the Cubs, Twins, Tigers, Angels, Phillies, and Rangers. Matt currently owns Walbeck Baseball Academy at walbeckbaseball.com
On this episode, Host Geoff Rottmayersits down with Matt Walbeck of Walbeck Baseball Academy. We discuss his path to the big leagues and the things he experiences going through the process.
Show Notes: In this conversation, Matt talks about:
- His youth days in Sacramento.
- His dad teaching him how to practice and how to value practice.
- Being a smaller guy who worked hard and was good.
- The awareness of needed to lift and get stronger to get playing time.
- The obsession drove him to visualization and mirror work.
- Having confidence and where it came from.
- Reliving the draft process and what it was like for him.
- Reporting to pro ball and understanding what to expect.
- His vision and training his vision to improve play.
- Getting to the big leagues and what was the coaching like.
- Game Planning as a catcher.
- Everything the best players did, went back to keeping things simple.
- His feeling and thoughts on technology and analytics.
- His advice to players who have the desire to be in the big leagues.
- and more.
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Geoff Rottmayer: 00:00:00 On today’s show. We have former big league catcher Matt Walbeck, and he shared with us his path to the big league. And what he is doing now with his Academy at walbeckbaseball.com.
Intro: 00:00:14 Welcome to another episode of the Baseball Awakening Podcast where we dive into the raw unfiltered unsexy side of player development get ready for some knowledge bombs with your host Geoff Rottmayer.
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:00:37 Welcome to the Baseball Awakening Podcast, I am Geoff Rottmayer. Today I am joined with former big league catcher, of the Cubs, Twins, Tigers, Angles, the Phillies, and the Rangers, Matt Warbeck and currently the owner of Walbeck Baseball Academy, which can be found at walbeckbaseball.com and all of the social media channels, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube. Matt, how are you sir?
Matt Walbeck: 00:01:03 Great job. Thanks for having me,
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:01:05 Matt. I’m excited you’re here. You know, listen, you, you spent 16 years in professional baseball and 11 of those, you spent the majority of your time at the big league level, something that only nineteen thousand nineteen thousand plus people in the history of the game be able to do. So you were pretty good. So I’m excited to listen to you and hear about your path to the big leagues, and some of the things that you went through, so let just kind of start with your youth days in Sacramento.
Matt Walbeck: 00:01:38 Yeah. So, um, I guess to start, I’m an only child and my parents divorced when I was very young, so I don’t remember. I’m living with my mom and dad together. So I was kind of the last key kid who would spend weekends with my dad and stay with my mom during the week. My mom was a school teacher and my dad owns properties in particular apartment buildings. It’s a couple, a few of those. And so he was able to have a lot of spare time and flesh and say spare time. But, um, a lot of time available for me and coaching me and um, basically being there for me to follow my love, which was playing baseball. So when I was five, um, I just told my dad, I said, I want to be a major league baseball player. And he said, well, we better start practicing then. So he gave me that, that feeling of, yeah, this can happen, it’s going to happen. And he planted helps plant that seed that from that point continued to grow into this incredible journey. Um, that is just like a dream. It still is really. I’m still on call. Yeah. But you know, from that moment he started playing, we started playing catch together. This was back in 1975 and he came up, he would ask around, obviously there was no internet or anything like that. You just had to know somebody. And so he talked to someone in our family, our uh, one of my, his cousin and they said, you should build this batting tee for him. And He, my dad was a golfer, so he understood, you know, something’s sitting on a tee and he, he wants to the hardware store and he bought together, you know, just some materials to build this batting tee out of metal pipe into a wooden base. And then he put like in insulation and a garden hose and just rig this thing together with duct tape. And next thing you know, we were going to the field and we’d bring a ball, two gloves and a batting fee, and we’d go to the high school field and he would bring his glove. And we came up with this game where if I hit the ball, past him to the backstop in a certain area, like targeted and it would be a single and then a double and then a triple. And if I hit it over the fence, it was a home run and we keep score and that kind of like ghost runners and things like that. And so here I was, this young age learning how to hit and he wasn’t telling me, you know, you need to get your elbow up, you’re going to do that. You just like just hit it over there are, you know, hit it past. They see if you can get by me. And that turned into, um, made me a good hitter, you know, and he wouldn’t let me play tee ball with the other kids. And I’m not that he wouldn’t, but he just said let’s, it’d be better if he practiced and got ready for kid pitch. And so we did. And yeah, I mean, I was never the biggest guy on my team. I made all-star teams as a little leaguer. Um, and then in the high school, you know, they said I was too small. They said, you’re too small, you’ll, you’ll never catch it in college. And I was like, well, I just love catching. And I just did because I was more involved in the game and I was quick behind the plate and I could relate well with the umpires and the coaches and I just like being involved in every pitch. And so they had me at second base and I played third base, which turned out to be a blessing because turning double plays at second had to, you had a short quick feet. And um, when I was 13 I happen to be on the same team is Fernando Venia, who’s one of the best infielders in the last 30 years. And I miss dude could throw it. He was super quick. And just we would play quick catch together and challenge each other and you know, so that was really good to be able to play second. And he played short, well my junior year, the kid that was in front of me that was always catching the starting catcher and they were kind of grooming cause they, they liked him, he was an eligible, they didn’t get good grades so he wasn’t able to play on the team. So I’m like, wow, this is my opportunity. So I started lifting weights, I got stronger, I started to get taller, you know, five, 10 and 55 to one. I put on 20 pounds by lifting weights. And then my junior teacher and I started to really hit the ball. I had a guy behind, his name is Wayne Weinheimer. He was way better than me. I mean this guy he was in last week. So all the scouts started to come to watch him and college recruiters and they noticed me. And so I just was able to hustle and be on time and make all the routine plays and be a good teammate and stuff like that. And people were like, wow, this guy’s a good catcher. He can hit a little bit. So then my senior year, I ended up getting voted the player of the year for the Sacramento area on a sack high graduate in [inaudible] 87. And I was a right-handed hitter at the time. Ended up getting drafted by the cubs and the eighth round. And my mom was a school teacher. And I can remember my mom and dad at the table with the scout my scalp, Tom Davis with the cubs. And I’m thinking to myself, there’s no way I want to go to college. I want to play ball, you know, and my mom’s the educated one and she’s like, you should go to college. And you know, we have Fresno State and Miami and Hawaii that were interested in then, certainly Sacramento City College, Jerry Weinstein. Um, you know, that’s just, uh, an incredible program he had there. So, uh, but I wanted to get out and play. So I signed, I end up signing. And what’s a widths, Virginia population 10,000 and the Appalachian League. And, um, I was off to a good start. I ended up getting three 14, I finished third in the league in hitting as a 17 year old and I’m playing against college guys and people from different countries. They didn’t speak the language and it was just an awesome experience. I didn’t know, but we played, we end up playing 70 games 71 days that year. I was crazy. I had no idea our schedule was going to be that thick. Yeah. Yeah. So then moving right along, um, I thought the game was pretty easy and I didn’t really work very hard that offseason. The next year I got my, my ass handed to me. I just didn’t perform well at all. I hit like two 18 and you know, it was 142 games season and Charleston West Virginia and I really got knocked around and it was a humbling experience. So I said, that’s enough of that I’m going to be out of this game real soon if I don’t start working my tail off in the offseason. So I got back and understanding that this could not last very long. If I hit two 18, I’m now hit the way Scott stronger went back the next year and started to reinvent myself and I played better. But then in August of [inaudible] 89 I had a career-threatening knee injury where there was a, there was a ball, hits a right fielder in cedar rapids, Iowa. And um, Jeff Branson was on second and Eddie Tab and see was hitting two guys with a red enables and Midwest League. Anyways, Tom and see hooks went through the right side of the infield Branson’s come hauling ass around third and he went to the University of Alabama, I believe he was a really good baseball player and hard nose. And I was trying to pretend like there wasn’t going to be a play at the place. I was sort of standing there and the ball comes in and I catch it and I stepped back, but my toes pointed towards second base and he crashes into me with a really hard slide and I tear my ACL, my MCL. So I’m like, oh man. So Brad Mills was my manager and he was majorly baseball player for the expos and really good manager. Good, good coach. Um, he’s standing there, I worked the days in, I’m in this tub of ice trying to keep us from my knee and he did buy a knee injury. So it was kind of ironic and I’m looking at his knee and he’s pretty, uh, pretty, pretty horrific. But you know what? I came back and I said, the heck with this, I’m going to teach myself to switch hit during the time it takes me to rehab my knee. So I started working on hitting left-handed. I actually was given the, the good grace by Bill Hartford, the, my early coordinator with the cubs at the time. He gave me all the confidence in the world to just go out and do it. So they must’ve seen something and I always thought that that would help add some value to me as a, as a player instead of coming back as a catcher who had a torn ACL and MCL. So anyway, that went on. Um, so I wanted to give that up and they said, I’ll never forget it. He said, you know, cause baseball so much. It’s so much of, it’s mental. It’s not all physical. He said, we don’t care. We don’t care what you hit. Don’t focus on the results. Just go out and do the best you can. And then at the end of the season we’ll reassess. And I thought, wow, it really made me feel relieved, like confident. Like it wasn’t like every at-bat was going to mean the world even though it does, but you have to. Once I realized that, just focus on the process, it all clicked. And so it came together and I ended up from that point getting pubs. I got traded, um, after the Cubs season, but in 93, I came back and I made my debut at Wrigley. Um, the beginning of the season Ryne Sandberg hurt his arm in spring training and they can put a third catcher. It was me, Steve Lake and Rick Wilkins. I got a good a ball year 90 then not our, excuse me, 91 and 92. I did well in Aa and I made the team out of spring training in [inaudible] 93 and that as a long-winded response to your first question is kind of my road to the, to the major leagues
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:11:06 Awesome, a lot of those things I would like to touch on. I love how when you told your dad that you wanted to be a big leaguers and his response was ok well son then we need to get out there and practice. How did your dad have the wisdom to say well we need to practice because today’s culture values playing over practice – so how do you think your dad had that great piece of advice?
Matt Walbeck: 00:11:32 Well, he always instilled with me, I think he was taught as a child from his dad, just that hard work is going to pay off and, and um, he knows that he made me believe that nothing’s going to be given to you. Just because you want something doesn’t mean you’re going to get it. You actually have to work hard at it and you’ve got to make sacrifices and don’t go out there and start playing until you’re ready. Right. So he could have sent me out there with those tee ball players with um, a bunch of coaches that only cared about their own kid and get lost in the shuffle and develop bad habits. And he was smart enough to know or wise enough I should say, so know that develop a good course set of fundamentals and then go out and beat the players up on the baseball field. You know, hit home runs, throw guys out, clean, you’re clean your fundamentals up and then go play. It was smart. I just thought it was a brilliant idea. I don’t think he knew what he was doing. He was just kind of doing it. He’s doing what he felt was right cause there’s no youtube or really anything on how to coach. And he never played baseball to speak of, maybe just a little bit and little league but never played high school baseball. So, and he, as I said, he was a golfer. He had no idea. My grandma was a sort of inspiration behind it. My mom’s mom went to a yard sale and got him a baseball glove, a used one and gave it to me and I put it on my hand and I was like, oh, this is awesome. And I cause no brothers or sisters, all I had were like toys and down to just throw a ball against the wall constantly. So yeah. And then my dad, you know, it was pretty cool because I never caught before and he was the coach of the little league teams. So he had a plan. He was not only going to train me and get me all style, but then he was also going to coach my teams. So that was even more of an advantage for me, you know, not that I’m saying he was giving me preferential treatment, but you know, obviously he’s going to, he’s on you. So he came home one day with them, with the army bag after the league meetings, first meeting with all the equipment for the team. So there was a baseball bat for batting helmets and catcher’s gear, but there was no glove. It was just catcher’s gear. So Thurman Munson was my favorite player at the time. Um, and I put that gear on. I’m like, this is what I’m going to do. It fit me perfectly. So I got back there and that’s when I started catching. I was eight years old until they said I was too small and couldn’t do it.
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:13:50 That’s awesome, so my assumption is that you started catching during kid pitch, right?
Matt Walbeck: 00:13:57 Yeah, I was kid pitch. It was a 78 and there were maybe four, four teams in the league and I played for the Giants and we played at Theodore Jude elementary school and East Sacramento School, Little Nook neighborhood and in Sacramento and it was just a, it was awesome. You know, my cousin Wendy was keeping score and my cousin Robbie was on the team. I, Uncle Bob was the other coach and it was a, it was, it was pretty wild. We ended up winning the championship that year. Two was the first year I played organized ball and we won the championship. In fact, before the game, I was eight and I remember feeling butterflies for the first time. I’d never felt that before. I asked my dad, I go, what is this going on? I don’t know if I’m going to get sick or what’s that? Oh, those are called butterflies. That’s normal and you’re getting excited about the game. I’m like, really? And all of a sudden I realized that when I get these butterflies I play better. So I knew I had something and I don’t know, I knew it, but I was never afraid of, of like a lot large crowd or pressure. Like if this the last this was last at-bat and everything’s on it, I want it to be in there. Do you know what I mean? I played better than the higher the intensity.
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:15:05 Nice, why do you think that was?
Matt Walbeck: 00:15:08 love man. It’s all about love. Do you love what you do and you’re into it and you, that’s your, your special space where you want to be. You get excited. You know, I have a Labrador and he gets excited every time we go out and, and go throw the Frisbee, you know. And that’s Kinda how I felt when it came to baseball’s like, aw, I love this. I’m going to be excited about it. I don’t, I don’t know. I mean, you can’t teach it. There’s no way you can just be put in a situation and then you see how your responses to the situation
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:15:41 Right, I love that process your dad took to teach you how to hit, putting the ball on the tee and giving you different targets at different places with the simple instruction of hit the target – did he do something similar for catching, what process did he go with to help you there?to teach you how to hit different targets at different places of hitting the target man. Did he, did he do something similar for catching? What profit did he go with you there?
Matt Walbeck: 00:16:04 Well that was the thing is that I didn’t have the proper throwing motion and he didn’t know anything about how to teach. Throwing are really hitting for that matter. So he wasn’t able, he would just put me on a tee or tell me to do stuff, but it just basically had to come from me. But he didn’t, couldn’t teach me how to throw. I didn’t know how to throw. I pushed the ball for the longest time. And then what he did though was really cool is he signed me up for a baseball clinic at Sac City College. It was lefty surfer. He had this little circuit going around back in the days, you know, late seventies early eighties and it’s amazing how your life can change in just the blink of an eye. He sends me to this clinic, it’s at the land park and there’s a bunch of kids out there and it’s a during Christmas, it’s like this winter clinic and all of the sac city coach players, excuse me. So this is a way for the players to make a few extra bucks and it gets kids out of the house and does this sort of stuff. Well this player, and I don’t remember who he was, but he was actually a player I think from sac city college as I recall. He just told me, he said, hey, make your arm like an l. And I, all of a sudden the light bulb came on and I made my arm like an land I had this cannon of an arm literally instant. And I went back home and my uncle Bob was there and I said, uncle Bob, uncle Bob, you got to see this. Cause he used to tease me. He’s so inappropriate that he says you throw like a girl. Do you know what I mean? He was giving me a hard time and I said, I got this for you. Let’s go out here. I want to, I want to show you something. So I crow hos and chuck one as hard as I could right at his face. And he caught it and he’s like, oh my God, you don’t throw like a girl anymore. Seriously, like jaw-dropping. Like it just, all of a sudden my arm changed. Um, so as far as the coaching goes, I don’t know. You know, I didn’t even really like to swap to squat down and pick stuff up. I really don’t like squatting, but, but when the uniform goes on, it’s like, that’s where I need to be. It’s almost like the game plays me sorta. That’s not like I’m actually playing the game. It’s like I’m supposed to be there, so I just get into the flow and that’s just kinda how it worked out. I just ended up behind the play. And, um, I think just cause my dad had the gear and he never told me anything about catching ever. He didn’t know how to block balls. I learned how to block balls and pick guys off and it was really an awesome position for me.
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:18:23 Nice, you said you were always a smaller guy, were you a guy that had good skills, like if Like, like if I went to go watch you play would have said, man, this kid can really play or what the one of those things where the skills kind of came at you develop and got bigger.
Matt Walbeck: 00:18:41 Yeah, I think he would’ve said that I was, that I stood out in little league and then, but until I got the height, it was my first two years in high school. I was, the kids really got bigger. They grew faster than me, so I was towered upon five feet as a seventh grader. So I was really small. Um, and you wouldn’t have really noticed me in the big leagues either. I mean, I never made the playoffs. I never went to the all-star game. Anytime I tell people I played major league baseball, they’re like, oh really? What’s your name? And I tell him and they all say, oh, okay, well, you know, I just haven’t been fallen based. I didn’t follow baseball too much. I know you haven’t heard of me. Um, but you know, and, and I’m serious. I totally flew under the radar for 11 seasons and my whole thinking was, I wish I would’ve done better. Of course, you always could feel like you could have done more, I’m sure. No, I could’ve done more, but it was almost like my position was one that I didn’t need to get recognized too much. So if you think about it, a Catcher, a third base coach, and an umpire, they all have that same thing in common where if they’re doing a good job, nobody sees him occasionally don’t make a great play or good sand or an or a great call. But if they, if they miss a ball or the third base coach sends a guy and he gets thrown out by 10 feet or the umpire clearly misses an outer safe call, it’s, you know, it’s just one of those jobs where it’s kind of selfless. So I wasn’t like, once I got to the big league, see I played from 93 too three, so I was in that era where everybody was kind of juicing too, you know, and it was, it was, everybody was like blown up. So I wasn’t in that group. Um, you know, I don’t have anything against the guys that did it getting off on a sidetrack here. But uh, I just chose not to do it for personal reasons, so I didn’t hit a bunch of home runs. I’m not saying, you know, that would be the reason and I didn’t hit for a high average and I was just kind of like a for a player, you know, so if you saw me be, oh, that guy’s okay. You know, he’s just, he’s in there, he’s like more of like a backup. I was more of like a backup filling in sort of flair.
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:20:47 Right and you said when you were a junior, the catching spot on your high school team opened up and if somehow you knew that hey, I needed to get stronger so I needed to live, where did that come from? Because there are a lot of kids out there that would have had a better opportunity if they would have had that realization that you had in need to live. So where did this come from and why do you think that? Why did you think that that was going to help you?
Matt Walbeck: 00:21:19 I just knew that the only thing I was lacking, and you know, I was going to get stronger as if I went to the gym and I started lifting weights and I started eating more and I started, uh, in powders. Like when my shower was heating up, I would do 20 pushups. I taught myself to juggle. Um, I would stand in my room. I’m not only just listening, but I would stand in my room and me really small bedroom with a dresser and a mirror on it and I would just practice my stride. My Room was so small, I couldn’t even swing a bat in there. So I would just practice my stride and I picked my front foot up and I’d stretch it out. And I practice my stride for like 20 minutes every night. And then I would visualize, visualize as a kid, like when I was nine eight, nine, 10 I started visualizing and you read about it all the time now and mental performance training. I was doing that stuff as a kid so I would pretend to myself, I would imagine that I was playing at candlestick park. I would imagine that I was playing at Yankee Stadium and I would literally be there and I would focus like walking around on the field and I was playing. I’m like, no, I’m going to make this happen and I started to believe it and I started to like create this reality like there’s a path here. I can, I can see it first and then it’s going to happen and sure enough there I was one day I’m standing on a major league field and I used to think about all the time like, well, you know I’ve been here before. It’s like you have to think about it first and I think so many people don’t have that skill because it is a skill. It needs to be practiced and developed. And because you, what you think about can happen and you got to, I gotta be careful what you wish for, you know,
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:23:11 Yeah I agree. I love the visualization and mirror work that you did and it seemed like you had a lot of awareness while doing do – a lot of guys just do enough to do what they got to do or practice. But God like yourself, another opportunity to help yourself get better. And You were saying with the visualization in the mirror works,
Matt Walbeck: 00:23:30 it’s got to be constant. You almost have to be obsessed by it. You’re in the elevator and you’re going up a couple of floors. It’s a good time to visualize or focus on your breathing, you know? And even just some time, and you see athletes do it all the time. You’ll watch the guy shooting a free throw or a kicker getting ready to kick a field goal or a picture or bad or getting ready to pre-pitch. They take a deep breath. Right? Right. And so doing that in the day when you’re doing nothing, washing your dishes are waiting at a stoplight and you just turn your brain off for a second and you go, I’m just going to focus on my breathing and you get present, all that other stuff. You were thinking about all the other, uh, wishes and dreams and all that sort of stuff. Now that gets a chance to go out there and work for you. Because if you’re always, if you never take time to be present in the moment, you know what I’m saying? And this is, again, it gets back to the visualization part. You’re never there. You never can get there. So I think that’s where you’re talking about where you’re, you’re just focusing on the physical part. You have to get out of that sometimes too. And what I mean by constant, it’s like a little bit of this, a little bit of that. But don’t forget to slow it down and not think about anything for a cell. And we think about your breathing, you know? And it works.
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:24:49 Did you play other sports?
Matt Walbeck: 00:24:49 I played everything. I played all the sports there were, but it was all red. I never played anything or cool and I was horrible and, but I could play rec basketball where there are no officials and, and I can play pool and ping pong and bowling. Um, you know, anything. Put a bracket in my hand, I can hit it over the net, but never anything spectacular. And I play music so that, you know, that’s kind of an outlet for me too, and I still play baseball. I’m in a men’s league. It’s awesome
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:25:21 Nice, so at what age would you say, you know obviously we all say as a little boy we wanted to play baseball at the big league level, but at what age did you say you know what I am pretty good at this and I am going to get really serious about this?
Matt Walbeck: 00:25:35 I’m telling you, it is the day I said I wanted to be a major league baseball player. Yeah, yeah. And, and my life changed along the way. And then I was playing video games and going out with my friends and going to movies and riding my bike and doing all those things the kids do. But in the back of my mind, I knew that I was going to be a major league baseball player. That was all there was to it. There was never any doubt. I never had a second plan. I never had a backup plan. People used to tell me that all the time and I go, forget you. Do you know what I mean? I’m telling me I have a backup plan. I’ll get there when I get there, I have a backup plan. I’m not saying I’m jumping out of an airplane. Of course, they need a backup shoot, but I’m not jumping out of an airplane. I’m putting one foot in front of the other and I’m going to go to the big leagues and that’s it. And don’t talk to me about a backup. Frustrating me. Well, what if you get hurt and I got hurt, I got hurt. I blew my knee out. No. Oh, don’t you wish you had a backup plan? No, I’m gonna become a switch it or now and I’m going to be in the big league swatch. And that’s Kinda how my, my frame of mind worked. I think that’s a big part of it is people are scared to commit. People were scared that because if they say they’re going to do something and it doesn’t happen, they feel like they’re going to be embarrassed and you to take chances. And I think that’s why, you know, it’s such a small group of people, like you said, that that have made it, it’s such a very fast game at that level. So you have to do things differently. You have to think differently than the next guy. You have to, it’s all about what you think about,
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:26:59 Right and then there is the confidence level, right. the guys that can really play on a different level. We had that as well. So can you talk a little bit about that? A lot of younger kids. So where did this come from and was there ever a time where you have some confidence issues that you had to work through all the time?
Matt Walbeck: 00:27:30 Yeah, I mean, especially when I was like towards the end of my career I felt like I was losing confidence. I was losing skill and speed and everything. And, and I, uh, and I know, I know what builds confidence. I mean, confidence is when you’re, you practiced a lot and you get really good at something and then you play and then you come back and you practice what you need to work on and then you play and now all of a sudden you get better. And that’s how the confidence happens. Um, so, you know, I don’t know, I did get to the point where almost daily you don’t, you lose a little bit of confidence, but then that’s where you have to have that grit and the courage to get through that and fight through it. And, and you know, you practice, you play how you practice. So I was trained by a great organization. The Chicago Cubs were awesome. I had some of the best coaches and instructors any player could ask for. And they trained me how to play baseball and they told me, I had guys telling me, look, if you get a guy on second base and there’s nobody out, and they’re looking, he’s looking right at me and he goes, you’re going to hit eight in the big leagues. You have to get that guy over. You have to get him in if he’s on third with less than two outs. If they asked you to bunt, you have to get the bunt down. There are no exceptions. When that guy steals second base, you have to throw the ball on the base. Do you know what I mean? They’re telling, they’re like scaring you like you have to, so then you get scared. You’re facing Rivera in the ninth inning or you got to hit against Randy Johnson and when it’s like 50,000 people screaming and you’re just you. You don’t have time to really do anything other than just what you’ve trained for. Right. I mean that’s the point is when you’re in there you’re like, oh man, he’s talking about confidence. Okay. I’m trusting that what I’ve practiced up to this moment is going to happen because I don’t have much to think about right now except I feel like this guy’s going to kill me, but it’s good. It’s a great feeling though. There’s that feeling where you get through that fear and, and the noise is so deafening it all of a sudden you can’t hear anything. I missed that a lot. Anyway, that’s a separate kind of juice that you don’t get in normal life where everything just, it’s like somebody hits the mute button, you can’t hear anything. And that feeling of like they’re underwater, peaceful and calm and you know that it’s just going to happen. Um, that’s, that’s all about confidence too. Just being able to do your best at any moment
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:29:58 Right, so let’s go back to when you got drafted, by the Cubs in 1987, this is an exciting time for anyone who’s going through the process. So what was the process like for you when they called you and said they were going to take you, you know, all the hard work that you put up, put it in leading up to this now, what was that whole process like for you?
Matt Walbeck: 00:30:18 Oh, it was wonderful. Yeah, it was great. Being drafted was awesome. As I said, Tom Davis was with the cubs. They drafted me in the eighth round and I was, I found out I was at practice for my American Legion team and someone told me and then, yeah. Then the process came to, I signed the contract and I was off and running and in Arizona and then the next phase was I had to get through many counts before I got to Westville and just one step at a time. You know, a lot of guys when they get drafted and signed, um, they sort of shut down. I think to a certain extent. When I got to the major leagues, I think I, I hit a goal that was so high that I should have set higher goals. You know, looking back on it, like I said, you feel like you could, you could always have done differently and done better. Sure. But there’s no, no reason to look back. But you know, just the process was pretty cool. You know, I didn’t make a lot of money aside for 20 grand out of high school, which is nothing. And then they gave me 12 and a half for college. And I used a little bit of that during my rehab with my knee when I was rehabbing my knee. Um, I went to junior college and got in a couple semesters. But you know, I never did it for the money. I just felt like it was an opportunity and I wanted that opportunity to get there. And that process, um, it worked for me, you know, it was a long shot to, especially at a high school, it was just looking back on it, I feel very, very fortunate.
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:31:41 So now you’ve been drafted by, you’ve been drafted by the, and now you’re going to Arizona. What was that like? You know, you’re, you’re 17 years old and you kind of probably had that mental image of what you thought it would be like in a problem. Probably wasn’t anything like what you thought or maybe it was, you know, what, what was that like you when you got there and everyone’s pretty good and that might be them foreigners there. So talk a little bit about what that process looked like.
Matt Walbeck: 00:32:13 Yeah. So it was crazy. I had no idea what I was getting into. Um, guy named John Ross snack picked me and Eric Peria from the airport. Eric Perry was from Pasa Robles. He was also drafted by the cubs and we flew from Sacramento to the Arizona airport there in Scottsdale, or excuse me, Phoenix. And we thought this guy was a coach. He’s like, no, no, no, I’m not a coach. And it turns out he was just guy that drove the van back and forth to places, did whatever he could to help, you know. But we were just, we were calling coaches coach when we first got there. We didn’t know anything about that. Um, and they’re like, no, don’t call us coach, you know, call us by our first name. I didn’t understand that. Um, one of my teammates was Matt Franco, who, I don’t know if you’ve seen the battered bastards of baseball, seen that show. It’s really good. So Kurt Russell’s his uncle being Russell’s Matt’s grandfather. So Matt and I were just getting to know each other and, and he was from thousand oaks and I’m from Sacramento. He’s like, Ma, what round were you dropped it in? I said, I was in the eighth. And he goes, oh, I was one right before you, you know, like giving me a hard time. I remember Mike Hartke was, was a pitcher for us. He was a first rounder and I’d never caught anything. It’s hard to see through. So there was a lot of stuff, you know, like they, I started chewing tobacco because it’ll help keep your mouth moist. The craziest fold. Just the way of thinking back to those days is so much different. Um, yeah. And then the hotel, we stayed at this place called the Maricopa in Mesa. It was just this little dive hotel or motel, um, you know, roommates and the places just infested with ball and you’d walk down to the field, Fitch Park and back and we need the clubhouse guy was a beauty. His name was Mike Burkhardt and he was classic and he was a super just gruff and had a cigarette all the time going and, and a hangover. And he was stirring up the chicken noodle soup. He’s got the big ass hanging from the, from the smoke and, and he’s, he’s barking at us. Cone gets your soup and orange slices, you know, play better. One saltine cracker per guy. I mean it was brutal. So we’ve been, here we are, I’m like, oh my God, they’re feeding us like nothing. You know, that’s just how it was back in those days. You had to share it. You had to wear a shower shoes cause you’re going to get some sort of foot fungus and no, we’re making 700 bucks a month, first year before taxes. And I got to find my own place to live. So I ended up rooming with Eric Perry in this pet store in Wytheville and the small little tiny room. And it was, we walked to the field, no car. Um, so yeah, it was, you had to learn how to live on your own.
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:35:12 You called home and said, I don’t know about this because a lot of kids that go off and away from home for the first time kind of have those thoughts.
Matt Walbeck: 00:35:25 No, because the first year I was rocking it. I was, I was doing great. I was getting all kinds of heads and throwing everybody out and making a name for myself, but I didn’t know how to cook for myself. I had a hard time doing laundry and I was barely shaving and I’m 17 years old. I’m just a kid and I’m on my own and there’s literally one stoplight in this town. So we were just hiking around town, trying to find things to eat, everything would close down. Um, you know, the bus rides were kind of grueling at times. The travel was hard. As I said, we played 70 games and 71 days and this is no, there are no time limits. It’s not like travel ball where you have time limits and all this stuff. I mean, it’s extra innings and guys actually fight on the field and you know, it was, it was pretty rough, but I loved it.
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:36:12 Yeah, when you got there as you said, you were doing pretty well, but did you encounter someone saying look son that swing isn’t going to play at the big league level or did they let you do what you do and do what got you there?
Matt Walbeck: 00:36:28 no, you know, actually, yeah, well shitting out right-handed. I was pretty good. They didn’t mess with my right hand and swing left-handed wasn’t so good. I had a little bit of a hitch in my swing hold, my hands would drop. And I started to get exposed. I mean, cause I hadn’t hit left-handed until I was 20 years old. I’m in the big leagues at 2124 and now I’m actually facing like Clemens and Pedro Martinez, you know, and some of these just animals, uh, Jose Mesa, I mean there were some arms back then. I know they throw harder now, but back then these guys were fierce. And so I had this little hitch in my swing and when I was with the twins, they basically told me I had to hit a certain way lefthanded they had to step up, stand off the plate and dive in. And I’m Kinda like George, Brett and I, and I did okay with it, but it just didn’t feel right. And for whatever reason, when someone’s telling you how to do something a certain way, you have a tendency to sort of not want to do it. You know, I don’t care how old you are. If I’m trying to, and I coach now I have my own baseball academy. Um, but you know, you have to be careful telling, do this, do that because now the kid loses feel for it. I think I kind of lost the feel, I lost a ton of confidence. But yeah, that, that happens. And so what happens is that once you lose confidence as a player, they’ll pick you apart. Everybody, everything, whether it’s the media you’re hitting coach, your teammates, the opponent, the umpire, everybody. As soon as you lose confidence, everything goes against your way. But that’s why the great players have a way to maintain their confidence and say that, feel like they’re the best player in the world. And people have a hard time messing with them. Like Tony Phillips playing against him. He was, he did not argue a called strike. Every single called a strike against him. He said something to the empire. Everyone either rolled his eyes or said something under his breath and it was almost like, how dare you know what I mean? There was just a constant, I’m the best. You can’t, are you kidding me? If I don’t swing, that’s not a strike. Do you know? Then there were guys like that and I think sometimes I would be in the box and I would lose a little bit of confidence and I start thinking too much and I try to get mechanical with it instead of just practice and focus on the breed, you know, like just keep it simple, see it and hit it. Um, but yeah, so it happens.
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:38:47 What about vision, not something we hear a lot of guys talking about but super important so what was your vision like and was it something you worked on?
Matt Walbeck: 00:38:55 Yeah, no I did. I worked on it. Doctor Bill Harrison was slow. The game down came in and we became friends and he mentored me and coached me and, and he was getting into this New Vision Training and sit thrifts was involved and, and forward thinking and a lot of, uh, ways of developing different things that players hadn’t been trained before. So, um, we have some really cool things. They would have an end. Of course the old school baseball guys were just going, what is this nonsense? You know, here comes this new way of thinking. And they had like a, they would put a nail on the ceiling and tie a tennis ball or a baseball, I should say on the, on the string. And then they roll it around, throw it around the room and you’d have to sit there and track it and then you’d have to open up, stand on one foot and close one eye. And then they had this light board and I know they have them now. I’ve seen him. But you get there and you have to, the light would flash, sleek, sporty. This is back in like 91 92 and cutting edge stuff. They had this other thing where you put these headphones on and you’d put your Chin on top of this, almost like a, the thing you would do at the eye doctor. And then you had this little Atari joystick sort of thing with a button on it and you’d look into this like submarine sort of block black of this with this red laser and you had the headphones on and the more you concentrated on this dot, the louder this buzz would get. And apparently it would do some sort of things, your brainwaves and trick you into being Superman or something. I don’t know. But all I know is this stuff worked, man. I’d walk in there and it was like this, these training devices for like the bionic man and then they have this other device. I’ve never seen one sense and I’ve been trying to find it. It was the most amazing machine. It was this combination of a nautilus machine and hitting wait device that had all cs and cogs on it and it was the craziest thing and how to bat handle on it and a hinge and you could take this thing and you get in your batting stance and you’d, you’d lower or raise the level of where your hand position started and it was a linear machine where you would hold your, in your batting stance, you’d hold this, this handle and you’d take a little stride and then you’d start your turn and super slow motion. Like they’re going to hit the ball. And if you use your hands at all to start the swing, if you tried to just move it with your hands, the thing wouldn’t budge. But if you kept your hands back and you let you felt like you were connected from your back foot, your back knee and your back hip and you kept everything there and you turn and you let your turn take, move the machine, it works effortlessly. It was amazing. So I started doing attack position. You know you want to be in that palm up palm down position. Your back arm’s going to be somewhat inside your gut and your front arms going to be sort of straight and you’re behind it. Now from here you unhinge your back elbow and use your wrist to strengthen both arms out to get to that power vi at the end, almost like the point in your barrel tip at the, at the picture, and then you would reverse the move. So then you’d reverse the hinge, get your elbow back in and then you’d reset your, your stance. I do that like 10 times, both sides, right handed, left handed. All of the sudden my balls are like going off the scoreboard and over the fence and I’m hitting bullets everywhere and I’m like, oh my God, this is for real. And it just like all the little things that we were doing training wise, we’re making a big difference. So yeah, he had, Bill had this, this thing called a vector Graham and it was basically three sheets of plastic and there was, you would have these glasses, these three d glasses on. And he actually, the picture of it is me and he took a, used my, my picture of like a pitcher throwing a ball. I’m going a Cubs uniform and I think I’ve got my catcher’s Mitt on and I’m, and I’m throwing a ball and you can see it’s super just old school, real shotty. And you’ll pull these things apart and you keep your eyes, they cross, your eyes will cross and it looks like it’s coming right at you and then you do it the other direction. So we are strengthening our eye muscles for that sort of stuff. So, yeah, I mean, just all sorts of crazy stuff that we had to do just to train, you know, behind the scenes that goes on. I mean, for a seven o’clock game, we’re getting there at like noon just to prepare. There was a lot that goes into it.
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:43:20 Yeah. Dr. Bill is great and I had a conversation with him and learned a lot with what he doing and have been doing for the last 40 years. You know, I know a lot of guide work with him that the kids don’t see, you know, what you big leaguers are doing in terms of your vision, you know. So I think it’s important that kids understand that you guys are working on your vision. So, so now Matt, now you get the call to the big leagues. What was that like?
Matt Walbeck: 00:43:55 Yeah, dream come true. I mean, just incredible. I mean, remembering, playing against the Braves, that Wrigley field a third game of the season and just the feeling of, I finally made it, um, words can’t even describe what it’s like. There’s so much going on and you’re in a new club and you know, you’re, you’re an elite group of people that they can never take. He had a lot of ego going on. Um, you know, the first time through the league it’s a little bit, I wouldn’t say easy, but a little bit of like being tested in a very elementary way. In other words, they’re just throwing you fastballs just to see if you can hit a fastball. And then once you start to hit a fastball, they start to mix the other pitches in and then your swing changes because you have to adjust to those pitches and then you, it becomes a constant cat and mouse game until you get to the point where you start kind of guessing and feeling what’s going to come. And so the game of adjustments was was very difficult. Um, the travel certainly. Um, but the, the, just the overall euphoria of being a major league player and all of those things. I said it’s just you get on a different level of accomplishment. And I think all of us major leaguers, the one thing that we thrived on what’s competing at the highest level, being able to compete for one on one at the highest level and see how, how your preparation has has worked. And you know, again, the money part was great. Um, but I never, I never had that as a motivator for me. For me, it was being in the moment and at the highest level and, and that, that provided me with a really good experience throughout. Um, so yeah.
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:45:44 Yeah, so what was the coaching like, was there stuff you learned at the big league level that you didn’t learn in the minor leagues?
Matt Walbeck: 00:45:54 Oh, for sure. Yeah, definitely. I mean, I had some really good coaches. I had some really good coaches that people would never hear of or I shouldn’t say that and it just didn’t have much of a name. And then I had coaches who were a hall of fame players and, um, just the wisdom I think at that level that is passed down from generations is very valuable and how to deal with situations and what to look for and what this person focused on when they were playing. And, um, the coaching, I think, you know, Merv Radmin said it best. He was one of my hitting coaches with the Tigers. He was, he was phenomenal. He was the padre sitting coach, Tony Gwynn, and all those great hitters. But he used to tell me a couple of things. He’d go, I’d be sitting on the bench for like two weeks straight and Detroit and go, don’t worry about a kid. You’re sitting out a smile. You know, he just likes trying to keep me loose. And then he’d say, I just don’t want to mess, mess anybody up. You know, just put a ball on the tee this up. He was such a good coach that he never really talked about swing mechanics. He talks about how fast you’re slinging it. Talk about, you know, what’s your tension level like. And then, you know, then I’d have a crew and he was trying to talk about other things and I just remember looking at Rod crude on your road crew. I mean, come on now you’re a different breed. This guy, I could see things that most people could. Um, and then you get another guy. He never really played at a very high level but could connect well with you and give you some sort of confidence and in a different way of thinking about things. And ultimately it just comes down to the better coaches are the ones who put, who put themselves in a position to be for the player and to help that player gain confidence from that players initiative instead of telling the player what to do that with the players relating right them and just giving them something to bounce off. Cause ultimately the player going to figure it out. Coach just needs to be there too, to find a drill or something to help them figure it out and let them know how good they are.
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:47:49 Yeah. The pitcher or they’re like a collaborative plan or the pitch or you already have some, have a feel for what are you wanting to do a little bit about that?
Matt Walbeck: 00:48:04 No, I mean it really depends and I think being um, for having it caught as long as I did, I realize that every pitcher is different and every pitcher has to mean the world to me. So I had to do my best to get the most out of them. So all 10 Belcher was a guy who was on the computer at a very early time in the game. He was the one that first guys that I ever played with it. You use the computer and was building spreadsheets on how he attacked every hitter and he basically had three different ways he would face hitters. He’s going to pitch him style a style, be your style seat. And I’d have to remember this guy’s a style, a pound and split, so pounded, split would pound the guy inside with fastballs and throwing splitters. That was it. That’s all we get. And I’m thinking, oh my God, if I eventually somebody is going to figure it out, you know what I mean? But he didn’t care. He stuck to his plan. He goes, nope, this is what we’re doing with this guy. We’re gonna make him reach. And so making the guy reaches, everything’s away. Everything’s away. Randy Myers, same thing. Randy Myers through nothing but fastballs away. When I caught him and then when I faced him, I just stepped on the plate and hit a base hit to right. It’s like, oh my God, these guys are so predictable, you know? And then you’ll get a guy like Jack McDowell. I Love Catching Jack. Jack was so simple. I say, yeah, if the guys like, we’re just going to keep throwing fastballs. If these early, we’ll just throw him a forkball or a slider. Like okay, cool. He goes, yeah, let’s just go right out of him. I’m like, no, you don’t want to think too much about it. Just read. Their swings are late. Stay hard. The early go stock, you know, it’s very simple. Um, Troy Percival just grip it and rip it. He came to spring training every year and he’d, he’d have this new pitch. Oh boy. He’s coming in with a changeup this show. He’s coming with a split for fall. You got all these new pitches. Basically use a two-pitch picture. He had an amazing fast fall, absolutely electric and a hammer. Just a 12 six sledgehammer and all I’d like to call was just fastballs and I just, I would mess with the hitters tempo, I shouldn’t say I. He and I through our, this relationship we had, it was really cool where we would shake, we would say he would fake shake three times. No, no, no. He comes set and he’d rares leg up and throw a hundred mile an hour fast right down the middle and the guy couldn’t hit it and same thing. I’m like, eventually these guys are going to figure out. But he had so much confidence in his fastball and just his pitch, he would commit to it so much that it didn’t matter. You know, there was this guy named Jared Washburn too. He was, he was a really good pitcher. Lefty. He had a broken scapula. He was pitching through and we didn’t know what it was. We thought it was a sore shoulder and dude was so tough. He’s showing 70 something miles an hour against McGuire and Conseco. I believe that we’re playing against the A’s. And I remember thinking, this guy’s got nothing. And he was throwing as hard as he could and it wasn’t even coming out of his hand faster than 75 miles an hour. And I’ll be darned if those guys weren’t popping it straight up and hidden it bullets right at the seen it shortened or dad’s making catches and you know, it was like, it’s almost like if you commit to something and it doesn’t matter what you’ve got, if you believe in it strongly enough and you turn it loose, you’re going to get the hit hitter out. There’s, there’s something about that, you know, it’s, as soon as you have that little seed of doubt, it’s like, oh, you’re going to, you’re going to give it up. So I think that’s the big thing is just finding a way in calling a game. And by the way, pitching coaches don’t call pitches managers don’t call pitches. So when you see a catch, you’re looking in the dugout, that’s nothing more than for the running game they’ll have, they’ll have a coach that tells you when to throw over pitch out or stuff like that. But there’s too much reliable, too much responsibility. And calling a pitch. So my pitching or this pitchers pitching coach calls her ball and the batter hits a home run on it. That agent’s going to end up calling the front office and say, Hey, why is your pitching coach tell him? I got to throw a curve ball there. He wanted to throw a fastball so they just don’t even deal with it. And um, so it’s basically pitcher-catcher.
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:51:59 Nice, I like how it goes back to keeping it simple. This game is hard and we make it harder by over complicating things and its as simple as keeping it simple.
Matt Walbeck: 00:52:09 that’s for sure. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, you kind of have to less is more really know thyself. You got to know what you can and can’t do.
Geoff Rottmayer: 00:52:18 Right. And so what, what was that like? You know, when I look at the the the latter part of your career, there was some time where you got bumped down into AAA, you know, what was that like? Can you talk a little bit about that?
Matt Walbeck: 00:52:32 Yeah, it was really hard, man. It was really hard. So I was in the big league straight from 94 until 2000 and then after the 2000 season, now it’s free agent with the angels. And they had Bengie Molina coming in. So they were, they were gonna let me go. It wasn’t like I was released to just my contracted run out. So I did a little pecking around for the, Oh one season I ended up signing with the reds, a minor league deal. And then about a week later they ended up signing, um, Kelly Stinnett to majorly deal. So I’m like, well, it looks like I’m going back to AAA. So I had to go back to triple a and you know, back to wearing double ear flaps and riding the bus and you know, eating pizza after the games and, and all that. And just different, you know, and humbling and just like, aw man, I really have to go back here and play. And, and all of a sudden it became like, okay, this is, let’s play. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, you just go out and do your job and make the best out of it. And so I ended up getting traded from the reds to the Philly. Very bowl was my third base coach and Anaheim. Now he’s the skipper for the Phillies. And oh one. And I’m like, great. So I go to Scranton and I finished off the season with Scranton and end up helping them go to the playoffs. So the team that I was on the Louisville River bats was the team I was on for the first half and the second half I was on the Scranton Wilkes Barre barons and end up both of those teams go to the playoffs. So I ended up taking this other team are helping them. I took their pitching staff on my back and said, let’s go. And it was great. Just a great group of guys. And Mark Bombard was the, was the manager and um, Goose Gregson was the pitching coach. Just a really good, good group of guys. And um, so then we ended up getting to the playoffs and the Phillies call the team and they call it a few of us guys. And so we go to the big leagues. I didn’t get to play in the playoffs. Nine 11 hits. I’d been in there for, I’ve been in Philadelphia as a major leaguer for like a week or 10 days, maybe nine 11 hit and I hadn’t played at all. And this obviously is a big does. That is, it’s a terrible what’s going on in our country and so on. And my wife’s pregnant with our second child, she’s due any minute. And so we were in Atlanta when this happened. They stopped the seasons for a couple of days I think, and get back into it. And now it’s been like three weeks. I haven’t even played. And it’s like I’m not even on the team, but I look in my names on the roster, I’m just constantly in that extra slot and the switch hitter box. And finally we’re getting beat up and, and uh, Florida. And I think we’re, we’re fighting, we are fighting for a playoff spot. We hadn’t been eliminated yet. We were still trying to get there. And I go down to the dugout and I told, I asked Larry, I said, hey, can you get me in the game? And he goes, why is your wife having a baby? And I couldn’t believe. I’m like, well, not right now, but I want to play, you know? I mean, I’ve been here for, I don’t know how long, give me the game. We’re getting our asses kicked, you know? And he’s like, okay, only if so and so doesn’t get on. I’m like, really? Let’s go. Come on. And he goes, okay, fine. You can hit. Here we go. You know. So now my heart’s pumping. I haven’t played in, I don’t. I tell you, it feels like three weeks, maybe more. All I’m doing is hitting 50 mile an hour batting practice. Now I’ve got to face San Antonio Alfon Saika who’s throwing in the mid-nineties so I get in there, I realize, I’m like, all right, I haven’t had a big league about all year. If I don’t get something here, some sort of scratch, some hit strike out or fly out or whatever, I’m not going to get on my baseball card. I’m not going to have that 2001 you know, I got to keep the streak alive. You know, I’ve been there 93 all the way to 2000 now. I got to get that old one. I mean this is a big deal to me. So I get in there and we ended up getting accounts at three and two. Right? It’s just like you imagined. Of course three balls, two strikes here comes with it. And I ended up getting a hit. I got a base hit to right field. It was a legitimate line drive to right field. I ran to first base and I just remember thinking to myself, I can’t believe I just turned on that ball. I absolutely just turned on it. And um, you know, it’s almost no different than a picture getting a hit at that point. So that was it. I hit a thousand for 2001 and then went back and had the chops, some more rocks the next year, but in Salito with the, uh, with the Tigers. But I ended up getting called back up to the Tigers. Um, and I chopped some more rocks in 2003 and got called back up to them. And that was just an unbelievable year. We went 43 and 119 with the Tigers. And Trammell, uh, Alan Chan will call me into the office and Dave Dombrowski, now I’ll hobble over in there too. And they said, look, they said we appreciate everything you’ve done. Um, we’re not gonna offer you a contract as a player, but we really think that you’d be a good manager in, in our system. So can you think about it if you want to continue playing and completely understand, it’s just not going to be here. But if you decide you don’t want to play anymore, we have a great spot for you. You can take your pick, you can either manage and the pen rigor you can go to the Midwest League of managing in grand rapids. And so I thought, wow, well that’s kind of the two hand, like a backhanded compliment, I guess. You know. So I’m trying to figure it out as I’m wobbling out of the office. And you know, we just finished the one of the worst seasons of all time. So I go and I talked to my wife, I said, look, here’s the deal. He said, I just got told by Tram owned and Broski that they don’t want me to play, but they have a spot for me to manage. And you know, I’ve always wanted manage. I mean I’ve always been involved in the game and I tell him, I don’t think if I cannot get a job on one of the worst teams of all time, I think that’s a good enough science for me to move on. So I took the opportunity and went into the managing thing, um, and had an absolute ball with it. I mean it was wonderful. We got off to a really rough starting in oh four and ended up winning the championship my first year and we ended up winning another championship and Oh six and then in oh seven I got to Aa with the Tigers and Erie and we did well there also didn’t, we got to the playoffs but didn’t wet. And then I got voted manager of the year for all baseball and the eastern league. So I’d had a few manager of the year awards and just a short period of time. And then I was interviewed by the Rangers to be their third base coach and catching instructor in spring training coordinator, uh, for the 2008 season. And so I accepted that position and I coached one year in Texas and got let go after that year and then went into the system of the Pittsburgh Pirates and managed for their team and Aa and out tuna. First Year was not very successful. Second year it was extremely successful. We won a championship, I got another manager of the year award and then they let me go. So I got let go and that was sort of stirred up a little bit of a controversy as to why. And, and you know what the deal is because the pirates had one and over 20 years and here they got this managing this twinning manager and they’re going to let them go. So that didn’t look very good. So I had within three years, I was like go two organizations. I went back, um, tried to keep, get another job, which I did with the Braves and I managed in Rome, Georgia for half a season. And it got let go mid-season there. So it was clear that this wasn’t a good spot for me to chop around and try and, um, manage professionally. So I said the heck with it. I’m going to come home, I’m going to do what I love. And the coach baseball, I’m going to be a dad and a husband who this time, by this point I had 2011. I have three kids and I started doing lessons and next thing leads to another. And now I’ve got this amazing baseball academy here in the Sacramento area. Got About 200 players. Uh, we’ve had the best parents, we have the best instructors, we do things at an incredibly professional way and kids are getting better. We started off with little little cages. Now we’ve got 14,000 square feet. It’s a private baseball school. We teach kids from five all the way to 18. Um, and we have separate skill levels and classes and courses that are specific for their skill levels and also for the season. So what their training and the spring would be different than the summer. And so we have this really good baseball program gone. And, um, I have a great friend and business partner in Glen Gross. He’s, he and I are really well connected and as far as what we think about baseball, there’s nurse and so he runs the teams, um, the, the numbers and we have some excellent coaches. And so anyway, it’s just been wonderful and to think that I’m still doing what I love. It doesn’t have to be at the big leagues or professionally or anything. It’s just baseball and baseball is awesome and I love it and I’m glad I’m not bitter about the pro game cause I could easily be bitter about that. But all things considered, you know, you really can only control what you can control and um, you know, to be able to still be involved in something at a high level. Cause I think we are the best and, and you know, the kids are starting to really show that. So yeah, it’s all good.
Geoff Rottmayer: 01:01:25 Can we just go back to your transition? You know, what was that transition like what do to manage you do?
Matt Walbeck: 01:01:36 Yeah. So basically your job is to follow directives from the field coordinator, uh, or each individual coordinator. So you have your pitching, your outfield, Infield, you’re hitting coordinator, you’re catching coordinator. It’s a hierarchy system. So you have a group of those people that are being told how to run things from a higher level is being told by the general manager who’s being told by the owner. So there’s a trickle-down effect. And so basically as a manager, as a field manager, you just need to focus on the game better and know putting them in a position where they can succeed or you know, at least play and show off their skills. So you’re complete middle management. Um, basically you’re being told what, how to put your players in a position to play. And then your players have agents that are complaining or lot of, so you’re getting squeezed from both ends. Um, it’s very, very challenging and difficult being away from the family, at least in my case. Um, and it’s hard when it comes to managing a team and you’re not able to do what your gut wants you to do. So you feel like you’re being told to do things differently. You know, for example, having to take a player out of the game if he doesn’t run down to first base under five seconds, um, is a very difficult thing to do when, you know, the front office sees the running time of 5.25 seconds and the guy doesn’t get taken out of the game. Well, they just see that. Um, so yeah, so it becomes more like you just kind of have to cover your ass and a lot of things. And um, it just, it, it was hard to swallow at times. I think at that level for me at least, just having it for as long as I did and then getting to the point where, you know, managing and a ball Aa, it’s just, it just isn’t as much fun as it could be. Um, you know, the Tigers were really open with me. They gave me so much freedom and space and it was just a wonderful situation. And then I think once I left that situation, things were different. I just didn’t, I didn’t manage them, the people above me and around me as well as I could have, I think. And in a political sense. Um, but I just, I sure want a lot, you know, and that was pretty cool. So, um, you know, I love holding up trophies and I love it when my guys do well and hit for cycles and, and has great games and I love the team Camaraderie. I love, you know, and, and I think all managers will feel this too in the sense that you’re, you’re leading a club and you get to help create chemistry and the team and get guys to Gel together. And, you know, as I said, if you can manage up and take and take instruction from people above you and just cut off your emotions to anything that you would ever want to do, then, then it’s good. But it’s, it’s a grind, man. It’s really a grind, you know, and, and they don’t, I mean, they get there early, get there at 11 o’clock and you’re the first one there. You’re the last one to lead. You have to send in reports after every game, which I liked. Um, you have to do reports all the time. Um, you know, certainly talk to the media and you’ve got people coming in and out of there all the time from the front office. So you have to manage that and, and yeah, you just have to please and, um, you know, it’s not for everybody.
Geoff Rottmayer: 01:05:09 Now you have your academy you’re giving back, which is awesome and I appreciate you doing that. What do you theme with today’s game that differs from when you were coming up?
Matt Walbeck: 01:05:23 I think it’s cleaner. It’s just a little more healthier. There’s more attention to safety. Um, you know, the, just the way that players take care of themselves. I think it’s a much more wholesome game. Um, you know, when I played, there was really not much drug testing going on for performance enhancement drugs and I think guys were doing stuff to, you know, better their game and a chemical sense. Whereas now I think they’re getting more dialed in on, on nutrition and rest and not partying as much and stuff like that. But I, you know, I do think, I don’t like the electric slide rule. Um, I don’t like that you can’t run over the catcher. I know it sounds crazy, but I always liked that play. Um, I don’t know. You know, guys complain a lot. I was, I was just thinking the other day I had a sick, we have situation. Talk about the game-changing. Tom Kelly was, I played for Tom Salary with the twins. He was beauty and had so much success and it was just incredible. It preparing his players and had zero tolerance for anything that wasn’t fundamentally right. And so here we are in a game and you know the Metrodome how to white roof. So anything that went up in the air you potentially lose. I mean it’s hard to pick up a ball, a white ball in a white roof. Yeah. We were playing, I don’t know, Milwaukee or somebody and they ended up skying a ball in the infield and we display it. Ball ends up landing in fair territory, guy scores, we end up losing the game because of it. We all march up to the clubhouse after the game. [inaudible] goes, nobody get undressed. We’re heading back down. We’re like, what? Let’s go. So we go back down to the field in uniform and rip still amazing. Or maybe it was garden higher Alger. I can’t remember. It’s probably guardian smashing popups. I got it. I got it. I got the fans are leaving the ballpark. It was crazy getting the next job work. It’s just like there’s no way that would happen today. I think that today’s players are just, they’re just different, you know, it’s a little bit, so you can’t slide heart into them. Some of them hustle, some of them don’t. I think that’s kind of always been the case though. I mean, I think they’ve always been players that, that some really hustle and some don’t. But in general it’s baseball, you know, it evolves, the game’s changed forever and it’s going to continue to change. It’s still 60 feet, six inches in 90 feet. And you know, every sense is a little bit different. I just love it, you know? Um, I know they’re talking about rural changes and I’m all for it. It’s just, it’s, things have to change, but at the end of the day, it’s baseball and it’s a game and it’s just, it’s the best game.
Geoff Rottmayer: 01:08:05 So what are your thoughts on the technology and the analytics?
Matt Walbeck: 01:08:10 I love it. I think it’s great. Yeah, for sure. Use it. And let’s see what spin rates are and let’s talk about launch angle and exit velocity. Why not? What’s wrong with that? Um, but at the other side of the coin, you know, if you get so much caught up into the analytics and you lose a little bit of the feel, that’s not good either. So there needs to be a balance, a proper balance, and the game will let us know. That’s why I think we need to just respect to the game. If we want to bring analytics into it, awesome. Let’s be humble about it. Let’s, let’s play with it and let’s, let’s respect the game. What’s not say that it all has to be like this or it can’t be like that. Let’s just see where it goes. And at the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. Either you can play or you can’t play. Either you’re good or you’re not very good. So whatever you want to call it, get out there and drive the ball. I don’t care if you’re hitting it on the ground or in the air or whatever. Show me what your average is. Show me how many runs you score and how many of you can hit over the fence. And that’ll, you can do whatever you want. There’s just so much stuff going on Twitter too, like with, you know, a lot of people saying, and this is how the swing should be and look at this and you know, and then there’s, there’s people that think that, um, you know, non old players are bad coaches, you know, just because you’re, you’re a player, it doesn’t mean anything. You know, I’ve been called out like, oh, you’re old, you’re a dinosaur. You don’t know what you’re talking about. And it’s like, wow, okay. Um, you know, and, and still, even though I played, doesn’t mean I’m going to be a good coach, you know? And just because that person never played doesn’t mean he’s going to be a bad coach. Let’s just respect the game. And I think it’s just changing. You know, the social media is changing a lot of it too. We didn’t have all that stuff back played, get away with staying at the same stupid shit to the media and now you can’t get away with a stupid stuff on the streets and people aren’t going to be recording you. So these players nowadays, they have to watch everything. They eat food in their body and what they post online. We didn’t have that. We were living in a jungle just doing whatever we wanted to, as long as we showed up and got their own time, we were cool and got the bunk down if you have to.
Geoff Rottmayer: 01:10:19 Yeah, I think it’s fun and you know, everyone knows everything attitude. And it’s one of the things where there is a lot more to it than just the mechanics and you know, with your experience having, having been able to play at the highest level that the game had, the offer, you know, that experience matters.
Matt Walbeck: 01:10:39 Yeah. Yeah. And you know, but as you said, less is more if keeping it simple is the way to do things. I think sometimes the analytics gets a little bit complicated, but then sometimes it’s not. I mean we use, we use the radar gun all the time that our facility, I mean I want my kids hitting balls hard, right? How are we going to tell if we’re not measuring it? We’ve developed an in-house needs assessment app to keep track of everybody’s progress so we can follow along and see, oh my gosh, this kid’s made great improvements. Or we can, our teachers have to build curriculums or I build the curriculum and then it goes down. And if they’re players aren’t improving, then it’s either the player, the curriculum or the teacher and we need to figure out why isn’t this, this kid getting better? And so we’re starting to use a lot of objective measurements and subjective measurements. And without the data, you know, it’s no good. Back in the old days, it would be up to me as a coach say, I would just say, yeah, this kid’s good. Just take my word for it. Now I can say he’s good because he hits, he has 110 miles an hour exit velocity and froze 90 miles an hour on his pull down and can run a seven flat 60 or six nine 60. You know, all this sort of stuff does matter so that we can prove it and um, it’s really exciting.
Geoff Rottmayer: 01:11:58 It’s an exciting time and I don’t want to take up too much more of your time. Let’s say I’m listening to this conversation and I had this desire to be a big leaguer one day. What, what advice do you have for them?
Matt Walbeck: 01:12:17 Um, oh wow. There’s so much that goes on to it. Um, I mean you just have to, you have to work hard. You know, you just have to work hard. You have to put the time in and you have to keep your nose to the grindstone and find something that you’re really good at inside the game and become the best at it. Make it your own and know thy self, know thy self. A lot of people, they go through their careers not knowing what kind of player they should be. So one day they go to the park and they’re going to try and be a home run hitter and the next day they’re going to go to the park and they’re going to just hit the ball the other way. Um, no what you can and can’t do and do it and do something every day to make yourself a better player. Hang around with people that are going to, that is better than you do well in school. Focus on the things that you have control over. Make your bed. You know when you’re, when you’re throwing something in the garbage can pick a target. When you’re playing catch, always throw to a target. Never picked the ball up with your glove. I mean it goes on and on and on. There are all kinds of things. And then again, you have to not think about it too. You got to focus on something else to make yourself a better player. Read books, you know, get off your screen, do something, you know, hit off a tee, hit the other side. So if you’re right-handed hitter, practicing lefthanded and vice versa, just so your brains and get a different field because you can get too monotonous and robotic. If you do the same thing over and over again, be creative, teach, go out and give back. Things like that. You know, it’s just, it’s, it’s constant and you know, we just got to love it and ultimately if you don’t love it then don’t do it. Don’t do it for the money.
Geoff Rottmayer: 01:14:01 Yeah. you have to be obsessed.
Matt Walbeck: 01:14:04 [inaudible] you do. You do.
Geoff Rottmayer: 01:14:08 Well Matt, thank you very much for you, it was great. I learned a lot.
Matt Walbeck: 01:14:14 Yeah. My pleasure. And then, you know, just for a quick plug for the people that are listening out there, you know, thanks for taking time to listen to this interview. Um, this is what I think is my first podcast interview, so that’s cool. If they could, they want to learn more about baseball academy, they can go to wall back, baseball.com and check out our website and follow us on social media. And I appreciate your time, Jeff and I and I appreciate your questions and hopefully, we can stay in touch.
Speaker 1: 01:14:54 Thank you for listening to our conversation on the Baseball Awakening Podcast, stay tuned for our recap show tomorrow.