July 4, 2011
by Jon Cooper
From 2005 through 2007, the late innings were “Wieters Time.”
Matt Wieters was a superb catcher for the first seven-or-so innings then would come on to close.
He began his college career with 12 scoreless innings, finished with 18 2/3 scoreless innings, then keyed Tech’s run to the 2005 ACC Championship by getting two wins and a save. In that year’s Atlanta Regional he slammed the door on South Carolina in the championship game. He would be named ACC Rookie of the Year and a First-Team All- ACC selection.
But he was just getting started.
The next year Wieters earned his first of two First-Team All-America honors — he’s one of two Yellow Jackets catchers (Jason Varitek is the other) and three Jackets (along with Varitek, and Nomar Garciaparra) ever to be so decorated — in helping Tech reach the College World Series.
In 2007, what would be his final collegiate season, Wieters again earned First-Team All-America and First-Team All-ACC honors.
That June he’d be selected fifth overall by the Baltimore Orioles. becoming only the school’s third top-five overall pick in MLB’s June Draft — Ty Grifin was selected fourth by the Chicago Cubs in 1988 and Mark Teixeira was chosen fifth in 2001 by the Texas Rangers. Wieters would leave Tech sixth in doubles (54), seventh in RBIs (198) and saves (16). He was extremely consistent in his three years, as far as batting average, hitting .366, .355 and .358 (.359 career), doubles (17, 20, and 17), homers (10, 15, 10), and walked more than he struck out all three seasons on The Flats. He also was 6-for-6 in stolen bases. He was as consistent defensively, fielding .994 (.994, .994 and .995).
It took Wieters less than two seasons to rise through the Orioles farm system, as he made his Major League debut on May 29, 2009 — 169 games of minor league experience are the fewest of any current Major League catcher. The next night, he got his first Major League hit, a fifth- inning triple off Detroit’s Justin Verlander. Wieters finished his rookie season with a .288 average, nine homers and 43 RBIs, in 96 games.
In 2010, Wieters had another solid season. Although his average dipped to .249, he made team history by becoming the first catcher to start a season with three multi-hit games, would put together a personal-best 14-game hitting streak and had his first multi-homer game July 26 at Toronto.
The 2011 season is on track to be the most rewarding of his career both offensively and defensively. The durable Wieters is second in innings caught among A.L. catchers (602 1/3), leads all Major League catchers in runners caught stealing (23) and fielding percentage (. 998, with only one error) and is the only catcher not to be charged with a passed ball (minimum 40 starts). Offensively, he has become one of the best clutch-hitters in the game, as he’s hitting .426 (23- for-54), with runners in scoring position, with six doubles, three homers, 28 RBIs. With runners in scoring position and two out, he’s batting .357 (10-for-28), with three doubles, a homer and 14 RBIs.
On Sunday afternoon he found out that he was going to his first All- Star Game, having been named a reserve for the American League All- Star Team.
That news came two days after Wieters took time to talk to Sting Daily about rumors of going for the cycle around the Tech campus, going from catcher to closer and going to the College World Series while a Yellow Jacket.
STING DAILY: Rumor has it you were on riding around campus on a bicycle today wearing a Baltimore Orioles t-shirt. Is there any truth to that rumor?
Matt Wieters: (laughs) That wasn’t me. It must have been a look-alike. I don’t wear Orioles shirts around too much except when I’m at the field. I don’t think I want to advertise that way. It was not me.
SD: You’re having a great year defensively and hitting in clutch. Defensively, have you always been this effective throwing runners out?
MW: As a catcher, you’re always taught defense is first. The most valuable way you can help your team is to be able to call a good game and be good back there defensively. This year the numbers have been a little bit better, but it’s always something I try to work hard on.
SD: What about hitting with runners in scoring position?
MW: It’s something where I think it’s more finding the holes than anything. It’s nice to drive in those runs and come up with some big hits. But you’re just looking for a good pitch to hit and I’ve been fortunate to get some good pitches to hit with runners in scoring position.
SD: How does it feel being back in Atlanta and playing at Turner Field?
MW: It’s fun to get to come back here. You have a lot of friends and family coming to the game. The Braves were a team I always grew up watching. It’s good to get back here and I’m excited about play the game tonight and playing at Turner Field. We were able to play a few games here in college so I have played here before but never on the professional level.
SD: You caught and closed while at Tech. Was there a disparity between splitting duties as closer and catcher?
MW: It was fun. It was really exciting in college to get that adrenaline rush and get to get on the mound. Sometimes I look back and some of the best times of my life were to be able to get on the mound and close out a game after catching. College was an exciting time.
SD: Did catching during most of the game help you as far as knowing guys’ tendencies when you closed?
MW: For me, it was always tough to take it out there to the mound. So I was always just trying to get the adrenaline going and throw as hard as I can. I always loved to study hitters from the catching side, but once I got out there on the mound, it was sort of just grip it and rip it.
SD: You were on the 2005 ACC Champs and 2006 team that reached the College World Series. What are your best memories of those two years?
MW: ’05 was a great year. It was my first year in school and getting to really experience what college baseball was like. I had one game in MIami where I was able to hit a home run and close out the game (March 27, an 11-10 Tech win). That was sort of the lasting image from my freshman year. Then, sophomore year, getting to the World Series was always something. One of the reasons I chose to come to Georgia Tech is I figured you had a a good shot to get to the World Series. It was great to get there with some of the guys.
SD: You hit with amazing consistency at Tech — all three years around . 360, same number of doubles, more strikeouts than walks. What was the key to that consistency?
MW: I think that’s how numbers in the game work out. That’s why you see the guys that have the good years consistently, they get paid the money. Somehow in baseball, that’s the funny thing, you play 100 games and somehow they end up being close to the same numbers as you normally have.
SD: You also were 6-for-6 in stolen bases. Did you hold that over other guys?
MW: (laughs) I don’t think they were really too worried about me at first base. But that was something that I always carried on my back, I never got thrown out stealing a base. Then, of course, my first attempt in the big leagues I got thrown out (In the first inning of the April 30, 2010 game by Boston’s Victor Martinez. He hasn’t attempted a steal since). So I can’t say that anymore.
SD: How much do you keep in touch with the Jackets program and Coach Hall?
MW: A good bit. I’ll talk to Coach Hall, especially now that he has a little bit of down time and they’re done with their season. We’ll touch base and when he has a chance to catch a game, I’m sure he’ll stop by.
SD: Do you have bragging rights from college days over anyone in this clubhouse come College World Series time?
MW: I’ve got a home run off Jason Berken (a Clemson alumnus), so he’s the one guy, I’ll always give him a hard time. But then we’ve got Blake Davis (Cal State-Fullerton) in our locker room, who got a hit in the World Series (a leadoff single off Wieters, that started a ninth- inning, game-winning rally) that ended up coming back to cost us. So he’ll always get on me.