Wingnuts Matt Chavez Battling His Way toward the Major Leagues
No matter how old they get, most boys dream of a day where they will be suiting up to play Major League baseball. To one day have their name included among the likes of Mantle, Gehrig, Aaron, Rose, and Robinson.
It’s definitely not an easy route to the Majors. While millions of kids play baseball each year, only about 1000 will actually dawn a Cubs, Angels, Yankees, or other Big League uniform. That means that you have to be the very best of the best to reach to the highest level of the game, and have to hope that someone notices you.
Sadly, the fact remains that many exceptional baseball players see their careers come to an end because of politics, pettiness, and mismanagement, proving that the best sports organizations in the world don’t always get it right. Dreams shatter because one scout has labeled a player inaccurately, or a bad report can label that player for good, no matter how wrong the stereotype is.
When those obstacles occur, it takes a special kind of player to overcome them and refuse to give into the stigmas, the false labels, and the rejections. It takes a kind of young man that is ready to battle, not only on the diamond every day, but also in his preparation so that he is the very best that he can be for himself and his team. A player that wants his team to win the war so badly that he pushes himself to the limits and dedicates himself to his craft for the success of the team. The Wichita Wingnuts have a player who is exactly like this and his name is Matt Chavez.
Love Is a Battle; Love Is a War
– James A. Baldwin
While talent is essential to seeing one’s dream become reality, the truth is that no one is going to reach the Majors unless they absolutely love baseball. Love will take you a lot further than any other thing, including talent.
Love for anything will make you do things that you would not normally do. This applies to baseball as well. It will make it so that you will take extra rounds of BP each day, field grounders until your chest was beaten and bruised, throw 200 pitches a day, and spend hours in the weight room looking to be as strong as you can be. It is what drives a ballplayer to exceed his performance from the previous day each time he comes to the park.
Since the first time he was able to play baseball, Matt Chavez knew that this was the sport for him. Yes, he was great at it, but he also just loved to play the game. He spent hours every day taking batting practice and he gives enormous credit to his father, Charles, for being willing to help him to be an exceptional hitter.
“I honestly couldn’t play the game without my dad. The guy’s arm basically fell off so I could be a good hitter. He didn’t know much about hitting. We had some serious wars over hitting. I fought for it, that’s for sure. He threw great BP though. Every time he did I let him have it because I just love to hit so much. He gave me that ability to go in there because I got to hit all the time. I just kind of got good at it because I was athletic enough to figure it out and I have him only to thank for that.”
Matt was primarily used as a pitcher growing up, but he loved to hit. He wanted to play in the field as much as he could. It was not that he was against being a pitcher in any way. He simply wanted the opportunity to hit as well. He found that it was the one thing that he loved above all others.
“Hitting is my favorite thing to do and that’s why I passed up being a pitcher and possibly even moving up faster than I have because I just love swinging the bat. It’s that feeling of being up there, just being locked in; you just can’t replace that.”
Matt attended Burlington High School (CA) where he starred for his school’s baseball team. As a senior, he was named the Most Valuable Player and was the MVP, plus he earned All-County First-Team honors. He was an exceptional hitter, and the results spoke for themselves.
There is always a part of my mind that is preparing for the worst, and another part of my mind that believes if I prepare enough for it, the worst won’t happen.
– Kay Redfield Jamison
While college is an opportunity to prepare a young man for the next stage of his life, it can also be a time when a professor, coach, or other person in authority can really crush the dreams of that young man, sending them on a completely different pathway. It is the professor who thinks that he or she has the one right answer and if students do not agree then they will be given a poor grade that crushes the hopes of the student. The instructor who thinks that he or she knows better about what is right for each individual student, or the coach who simply doesn’t care what is in the best interests of the player as long as that player helps the team to win who can make college a living hell.
This is the unfortunate plight that Matt Chavez found himself in when he opted to attend the University of San Francisco. For two years, Matt was doing well. He hit .286 his freshman season in limited action, and was 0-1 with a 6.35 ERA in 15-appearances.
His sophomore season he turned things around on the mound, going 1-0 with a 3.78 ERA. He, once again saw limited action at the plate, but his performance was good enough that he was invited to the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) to play for the summer. Matt went there specifically to pitch, but when the manager of the New Bedford Bay Sox saw how well he hit, Chavez found himself playing in the field on a regular basis.
He had a huge summer, hitting .355 and played well in three different positions. His performance was so spectacular that he earned First-Team All-NECBL honors at first base and second-team honors in the outfield. Plus, he had a 1.41 ERA.
With that kind of performance, it would seem logical that he would be the toast of USF, but that was not to be the case at all. The manager of the Dons was outraged that Matt had spent so much time playing the field and not pitching, and this led to Matt being black-balled of sorts. He appeared in just 29-games his junior season, none as a pitcher, where he hit .194 in 72-at-bats.
It was not as if Matt didn’t want to pitch. Yes, it was true that he wanted to hit, but he had gone to the NECBL to do both. It was the manager of his team out East who wanted the slugger in his lineup every day after seeing how well he could hit. What else was he supposed to do.
“I know he was upset, but I proved I could hit and so what am I supposed to do. I still wanted to pitch, but I just wanted the opportunity to do both. He’s the manager, so if he tells me to play in a certain spot then I will go there. I just wanted to do what I could to help the team.”
The USF manager’s frustration had soured him on Matt and he opted to punish his player for doing what he was supposed to – perform. The rift even led to exchanges where his manager would be cursing at Chavez in the dugout. It hurt Matt’s performance on the diamond and was quickly leading to him turning on the game.
“I was the DH because they never really wanted to give me a shot. They kept moving me around to a bunch of different places and I never really got good at anything. It made it hard to come to the field when you know you are not even going to be given a chance. It’s like why bother, but I wasn’t going to quit. It was frustrating and not a lot of fun, but I didn’t want to give up.”
Matt saw limited action in his senior season, appearing in 46-games, but 17 of those were as a pinch-hitter. Despite the limited action, Chavez hit 7-home runs to lead the team, including 4 pinch-hit shots. He also showed incredible power, blasting a home run out of the stadium and onto Golden Gate Avenue in a game on May 13, 2012. He clearly had the tools to succeed, if he was given a shot.
Victorious Warriors Win First and Then Go to War
– Sun Tzu
After graduating from USF, Matt Chavez was looking for a place to play baseball. Because of the way he was used by the Dons’ manager, Matt was not finding many takers, despite being drafted by the Chicago White Sox following his sophomore season.
To stay in the game, Matt joined the Prescott Montezuma Federals in the Freedom Pro Baseball League where he was crushing the ball. He earned the triple crown in the league, hitting .430 with 18-HR and 49-RBI.
Following the season, the FPBL folded and Matt was looking for another opportunity. Who would have known that it would be his dentist that would help him get a shot in affiliate ball?
One evening, Matt’s mother, Matt Celeste, told him that he needed to go to the dentist the next day to have his teeth cleaned. He went to see Ron Sarles and the dentist asked him how his career was going. Matt explained that he had a great season, but the league had folded and he did not know exactly where he would play. It so happened that Dr. Sarles happened to know Bobby Evans, the Vice-President of Baseball Operations for the San Francisco Giants. He encouraged Matt to call Evans and, after a few days, he did. The team flew him out for a tryout, and were so impressed that they signed him the next day.
Despite the obstacles that had been placed in his way, Matt Chavez was now on his way to affiliate ball, joining the Giants Mid-A team in Augusta. It is an incredible testament to the fact that when a person keeps working hard, despite the challenges that others put in their way, they can still reach their goals. The dream could not be stopped.
I Will Prepare and Some Day My Chance Will Come
– Abraham Lincoln
This was a dream come true for Matt Chavez. Not only was he finally headed to an affiliate club, but the San Francisco Giants had been the team of his childhood. It was truly a remarkable turnaround, and proof that you should always listen to your mother (even the clean underwear thing).
“The Giants, for me, were THE team,” Matt explained to the Daily Journal. “[To be signed by the Giants] it didn’t feel real. I can’t believe this was the first team to give me my first tryout.”
Chavez spent 10 games in Augusta before he was released. He hit just .194 there, and was not given much of a chance to prove himself beyond that little stint.
Back on the road he went, looking to find a new location to continue his career. This led to a lot of frequent flyer miles as Matt signed with the Frontier Greys in the Frontier League, then went to the Fort Worth Cats in the United League before being released and signing with the San Angelo Cats in the UL. When the season ended, he traveled back to California and spent the final two weeks of the Pacific Association season with the San Rafael Pacifics, helping them to win the league title.
As the season progressed, Matt simply got better. After hitting .218 for the Greys, the first baseman hit .262 in 19-games in Fort Wayne. After signing with San Angelo, Chavez batted .369 in 31-games with 5-homers. He also drove in 30-runs and scored 31 more. In San Rafael, Matt hit .490 in 13-games with 3-homers and 18-RBI. He also drew 10-walks.
Matt returned to San Rafael the following season and was lighting up the league once again. In 66-games, he hit .383 with 31-homers, 65-runs scored, and 85-RBI. He also walked 40 times and posted a gaudy .469 on-base percentage. His performance caught the attention of the San Diego Padres, who purchased his contract and sent him to High-A Lake Elsinore in the California League. That made Chavez the first player in Pacific Association history to have his contract purchased by an affiliate club.
The first baseman finished out the season in Lake Elsinore, where he hit .293 in 15-games with 3-homers and 8-RBI. The Padres retained his rights and even invited him to participate in the big league camp the next spring, but things went south in short order.
“I finally get my first invite to a big-league game but we still go out to the minor-league camp early to practice. I go out to there and we’re doing our team meeting and they say, ‘Oh by the way Chavy, you’re not going to the big-league game today. We need you here for this game as we don’t have enough guys.’ So, I thought that was not that big a deal. Well, the next day I got released and I go into my meeting, and the first thing the guy tells me that ‘we might be making a mistake but we just don’t have any at-bats for you.’ So, I was like ‘You’re definitely making a mistake. I know I can hit. I have hit against your big leaguers, I’ve hit your minor leaguers all the way from AAA down to rookie ball, and it really didn’t make any difference.’ I hit at every single level that they put me in during spring training, but, that’s the way it goes and you just try to continue to improve and give people no doubt that I should be where I should be.”
There is always a part of my mind that is preparing for the worst, and another part of my mind that believes if I prepare enough for it, the worst won’t happen.
– Kay Redfield Jamison
Matt Chavez had proven that he deserved a shot, but the opportunities were not coming his way. Following his release by the Padres organization, he reached out the Wichita Wingnuts to see if they needed a first baseman. He had wanted to play in Wichita the season before, but the team was not as enthusiastic about signing him as maybe they should have been.
“I wanted to come to Wichita in 2015 and I was having a really great year in the Pacific Association. I called them up directly because I’d heard that this was the team to play for and they told me no at first. I told them that I promise you that I’ll come out and I’ll hit. It’s going to happen. I kept calling guys in the league and everyone kept saying that I couldn’t hit at this level. I can’t hit at this top level. I can’t hit a slider. Last year, I think I proved that what was said about me wasn’t true at all, but you have to keep proving yourself.”
The 2016 season began with Matt on the bench. He would see limited action through the first six weeks, but Wichita Wingnuts Manager Pete Rose, Jr. knew that Matt could hit, as did GM Josh Robertson, so they opted to release their veteran first baseman and turn to Chavez.
“I was sitting on the bench for six weeks but based on what I showed to Pete in games and in batting practice, being coached by him and doing what he asked of me, he released a guy who was a great first baseman and was a pretty solid player after I had just been sitting on my butt for six weeks. That just shows the rapport that I built with Pete to take in what he said and really be able to apply it. That’s probably why he was able to do that and felt good about releasing that guy because he felt what he asked of me was going to get done. I think that’s why we have such a great relationship at this time. Whatever he says I’m always on board with that. He’s such a knowledgeable guy, how could you not learn.”
Matt did not make them regret their decision one bit. In 68-games, he hit .363 to lead the American Association, plus added 16-homers and 61-RBI. Pretty good for a guy who couldn’t hit at this level. His performance was so stellar that he earned Rookie of the Year honors.
Unfortunately, there seems to be far more opportunity out there than ability…. We should remember that good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation.
– Thomas Edison
After five seasons of bouncing around, Matt Chavez has found himself a home with the Wichita Wingnuts. He is in the running to become the American Association’s first Triple Crown winner, as he is second in batting (.363), second in home runs (14), and first in RBI (64). He is also on pace to break the Wingnuts record for RBI in a season as well as hits, two of the marks he set his sights on before the season began.
“I try to set my goals high. I’m thinking like batting over 400 and hitting 40 home runs in this league. If that happens then great, but if I’m hitting underneath that but better than last year then people are going to think that’s great. I always try to set my goals as high as I can. I’m trying to be well above the best that anyone’s ever been in this league. I want to set every record I can. I look at the season (Brent) Clevlen had when he won the MVP (2014), and I want those marks. I want Kevin Hooper’s team record for batting (.373). I want to be the best hitter anyone has ever seen, and that means I have to prepare to do my best every day.”
To reach those lofty goals, Matt is preparing each and every day like this is his one chance to prove that he should be a Major Leaguer. The preparation is unreal and the commitment stands for itself.
“I don’t take anything lightly as far as what I do. I try to be just nails all the time. I have my terrible days and I have my good days. It’s not like I’m totally perfect in all categories, but you have to try your best to perform no matter where you’re at. I could totally give up and say it’s totally over and just waste away all my opportunities, but that’s not what I’m willing to do. You just got to walk into every game like it’s the biggest game of your life. You never know, so you have to practice like you’re going into the big leagues.”
With the excellence that Matt Chavez displays at the plate, his work ethic, and his commitment to be the very best, there should be little doubt that he could be a Major League baseball player one day. Even at 28 he has proven that he has the skill, tenacity, and attitude to be a Big Leaguer. Until then, he will likely lead the Wichita Wingnuts to the American Association championship. In Wichita, they know that if you want to win the war, you need someone who is ready to battle to the fullest. You need Matt Chavez.
Featured Images Courtesy of the Very Talented Ed Bailey
By Robert Pannier
Member of the IBWAA
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