"For the time being, only baseball-related questions for Matt". I knew it was coming. Part of being a minor league writer is understanding the dance between what should be put into the public sphere, and what could be. In today's all-access universe, that doctrine admittedly sounds dated and frankly, a bit impossible. But it's not an impossible code to abide by, and if you choose not to, that's on you, but you'd be naive to expect the flow of information to continue once you've detonated the bridge. But a sense of perspective also helps. Realize we're not exactly divulging state secrets by acknowledging a player has struggled with his fastball command or another has potential "make up" issues. But Matt Bush's situation is different. He's an alcoholic whose decisions have had very negative, very real consequences for more than a few people, not the least of which is himself. Setting the parameters for Matt's introduction in Frisco was a good idea because we knew going into it we weren't going to ask Matt about specific instances from his past. Someone will; some time in the future I imagine he'll sit down and do a full-scale one-on-one with someone far more credentialed with journalistic chops than yours truly. But that wasn't the plan for today. He's easing into a new life and a new lease on life, and myself and the other few media folks there today wanted to be respectful of that. He's an addict, so everyday features challenges and potential moments of weakness, but if a person can overcome them, they can have live a happy fulfilling life. In that respect Matt is no different than other folks in recovery. The difference is Matt has a profoundly rare gift, given to him at birth, to play baseball. If he's able to hurdle the daily obstacles, to tame the demons, if he's able to focus, for once, on his gifts and his goals, he'll finally become a Major League Baseball player.
First some backstory on how he got here. Not how he got to baseball, or to prison, that story has been written enough, but how did he get to the Rangers? Simple. Golden Corral. And Roy Silver. Silver, Texas' Player Development Assistant knew Matt from the days when both were with the Tampa Rays organization. Roy was also instrumental in getting the most out of a similar situation with Josh Hamilton, so he was comfortable and familiar in the role. That's where Golden Corral comes into play. Matt was in a work release program in Florida, living in a half-way house and riding his bike to his job in the Golden Corral bakery when Roy went to see him. In a situation like that, there's not many places a person like Matt is permitted to go, so if you wanted to see him throw a ball, you better get to the Golden Corral. A change of clothes, out of his cook's uniform, into some workout shorts and next thing you know, he and Silver are throwing the ball in the parking lot. Roy gets down in the catcher's squat and feels the glove pop and they notice Matt's commanding the ball surprisingly well and it's coming out of his hand as if he'd been away from the game for 4 days, not 4 years. This continues for a few months as Silver offers not only a solid backstop for the games of catch, but also a mentor's voice and a coach's insight. So a bit of buzz builds there and thanks to Matt's comfort with Roy and the rest of the Rangers staff he met, the Rangers had the early lead on his services. It was apparently a 1-horse race. Not many, if any, teams were in on him. I imagine many didn't even bother to inquire as to his whereabouts. And as far as I know, only the Rangers scouted him at the Golden Corral.
Fast forward to mid-November and having successfully completed the constructs of his release, Matt is flown to Arlington to throw on a mound for the first time in 4 years. And he dials up mid-90s. If you're wondering if that's normal- a 30 year-old man, not picking up a ball for 4 years, then just walking out of prison and not only throwing mid-90s, but throwing strikes in the mid-90s? No. Absolutely not. It's not only not normal, it's Disney-caliber make believe. Matt talked today about how even he was surprised at how hard he's been throwing. Said he's throwing harder now than ever before and he credits a lot of the work done on his body and his overall conditioning, so understand that a bit. Just before Christmas, Texas signed him to a deal, of course laden with outs for them, and offered to help in any way they can with his recovery.
Matt showed up in Surprise on February 2nd. Long before the throngs of fans, a month before most minor leaguers, and at least a few weeks before even the big league pitchers and catchers reported. There were only a few injured rehabbers and even fewer front office folks and coaches on the sprawling Surprise Recreation Center fields. That was an ideal situation for Matt to re-acclimate himself with what had previously been his entire existence. A quiet place to put on spikes and a uniform for the first time in a long time. A place to meet with coaches and be introduced to the structure that will be so very important in getting him to capture the dream nearly everyone thought was gone and buried.
My first question to Matt was simply about his stuff. Because, as I said in my Spring Training recaps and as most of you know by now, it is big league caliber and it is nasty. The breaker is a traditional CB and he grips it and snaps it down in a traditional way. It's hard as hell, so I asked if he's using a spike or knuckle variation- nope. The fact that it can run up into the 83-84mph range not only speaks to tremendous arm speed, but my oh my he must be torquing the hades outta that thing before it's released. Spin rate oughta be fun with that pitch. He says a CH exists, as does a 2-seamer, but for now, they're just gonna ride with the 4-FB and the CB. I was very impressed by his knowledge of pitching. He's very conscious of being a pitcher, not just a thrower. He mentioned how command is the goal, because he knows lots of guys can turn around velocity.
Matt speaks in a hushed voice and has an almost meditative quality to his cadence. When you ask a question, he squares up and looks you directly in the eye, and it takes a nanosecond to realize that's where the real stories lie. He's been through a lot. He's put a lot of other people through a lot more, and while he stood perfectly still, black and white tattoos completely covering both arms, you can tell he knows he's got another shot and it's going to be his last. His left hand gripped his right wrist, held below his belt buckle the entire time he spoke to us, only appearing to loosen, slightly, late in the experience. His answers were contemplative and thoughtful and he paused when he needed to register his thoughts. Except once. When asked directly, "What do you want to get out of this?" He responded quickly and with the most authority of any answer he gave in the entire session. "I wanna play in the majors. I wanna show people I'm not the guy everyone wrote off." Well, Matt, the Rangers are going to give you that chance. As for the fans? Some won't be as forgiving. Addiction is an issue many fans have personally encountered, and that needs to be acknowledged and empathized with. But many Rangers fans will be forgiving, and many will also do will do just that. They'll acknowledge and empathize with a remorseful man, openly battling a disease. It's nuanced and not as simple as rooting for someone who hasn't done what Matt's done, but truth is, we've got a bit of experience in cheering for just this type of player. As for me, I'm just hopeful he takes good care of this chance, and takes advantage of it. The arm is live and it is very legit. As for the possibility he pitches in the big leagues? I'm guessing there's a 30 year-old rookie trotting in from the bullpen in Arlington sometime later this summer.
As Always, Enjoy Baseball!