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Finishing What He Started

by Stan Awtrey

THE FLATS – From the first time he settled into a baseball helmet as a kid growing up in Goose Creek, S.C., Matt Wieters has doggedly pursued all of his goals.

He was an all-state player at Stratford High and led the team to the state championship. He signed with Georgia Tech and became one of three players in program history to become a two-time first-team All-America. He was the fifth overall pick of the MLB draft by the Baltimore Orioles in 2007 and retired in 2020 after a decorated career.

But among all the trophies, there was one thing that Wieters felt was missing: A diploma.

And now he’s taking care of that omission.

Like many gifted baseball players who are chosen in the draft, Wieters chose to leave college before completing his degree and pursue his dream of playing in the major leagues. And while he made the right decision, there was something missing that he wanted to make right.

So, at age 36, Matt Wieters returned to Georgia Tech as a student and is well on his way to earning his degree in business administration.

“This is something I started and would like to finish,” Wieters said. “When you go to a school like Georgia Tech, having a diploma to hang on the wall, it does mean something. If you get it, it’s going to be something that you had to work for and it’s not easy to achieve. It isn’t something I want to be prideful about, but I do want to recognize the sacrifice that goes into getting a degree.”

But Wieters wanted more than just a chance to earn his diploma. Once he decided to return to school, he approached Georgia Tech baseball coach Danny Hall, for whom he played, and inquired about helping as an undergraduate assistant coach. Hall quickly agreed and found a place for his former catcher.

On finding a role with the team

“It was a no-brainer to have Matt help around the program,” Hall said. “Matt was a great player for us and an all-star in the MLB. He is one of the most humble MLB players I’ve ever been around. That being said, he also has a competitive, winner mentality that is infectious. His presence makes all of players and coaches better every day.”

The return to school and the diamond was the next step for Wieters, who was happy in retirement – he had coached a middle school team and a high school team. But he missed the interaction of players in the clubhouse and was trying to determine his next move.

“After I got done playing, I really knew the next step was wanting to be home more with the family,” Wieters said. “My wife and three boys, they’d been through the professional baseball life of travel, different cities, different houses, and just really wanted to be at home.”

But Wieters realized he had too much knowledge of the game to simply walk away. And he missed the camaraderie that is an important piece of the baseball lifestyle. After mulling over his next move, an idea came to him while on an airplane.

“I was enjoying my family, but realized I was supposed to be doing something and I’ve got all this baseball wisdom and knowledge and experience, so what do I want to do with it?” he said. “And at the same time, I knew that school was unfinished. I knew if I could work toward my degree at the same time and be around baseball, that’s what I wanted to do next.”

Wieters had three semesters remaining to finish his degree and began to attend classes and work with the team in the fall. He fit in well with the players – and even shared classes with them. He even grew accustomed to hearing, “Hey, coach Wieters …”

Wieters said, “The kids are fun to be around. It’s kind of like an out-of-body experience a little because I’m seeing these guys go through what I remember going through here. … It’s been great. They’re willing to listing, willing to try things that I’ve seen that have helped me, and at the same time, we’re able to back and forth and have that baseball relationship that’s so special.”

On sharing his experiences with the team

And Wieters, a four-time Major League All-Star, has been able to benefit from being around coaches at Georgia Tech.

“The great thing about baseball is every day you’re at the field you learn something new that you never knew before,” he said. “It’s a different level than I’ve been playing, but I still learn something new every day and I like being around the guys.”

Wieters isn’t certain about whether he will continue along the coaching journey. He’ll make that decision later, but the experience has opened his eyes to the possibilities.

“I definitely think there’s a reason I’ve had some many great coaches and great mentors who have given me the advice and wisdom that I have,” he said. “Somewhere I’m supposed to pass that on. I just don’t know how that is yet.”

And he’s a step closer to completing the graduation goal he set for himself years ago.

On finishing what he started

“My mom always wanted me to finish my degree and I completely understand why,” he said. “She’s like, ‘I don’t want you to do this for me.’ And I’m like, I’m not doing this just for you. It’s a part of finishing what you start and I think it’s a lesson that I can share with my boys and it’s something they probably know that I don’t have to do. But it’s something I started and would like to finish.”

And when he receives that sheepskin, he’s got a spot picked out in his man cave – right between those two Gold Gloves and the rest of his hardware.

“It’ll fit right up there,” he said.

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