May 11, 2005
by Simit Shah
Freshmen aren’t supposed to do what Matt Wieters has done this year.
The Georgia Tech baseball program has seen its share of talented players, but the catcher/pitcher/first baseman has accomplished some mind-boggling feats in his first few months of college baseball.
First, there was the early-season series against Duke when he went 12-for-14 with a grand slam and eight RBI, earning national player of the week honors. A few weeks later, he homered against Miami in the top of the ninth to break a tie game and nailed a save opportunity in the bottom of the inning. Then against Clemson, he hit another grand slam and pitched the final two innings for his fifth save of the season.
“The other day someone said, ‘It’s like Little League all over again.’ The real good player in Little League can do all that, but you don’t see somebody doing it at the college level the way he’s doing it, hitting home runs to win games, then you’re closing it,” said coach Danny Hall, shaking his head.
The Goose Creek, South Carolina native is in the midst of one the greatest rookie campaigns in school’s storied history. In addition to his dramatic heroics, he’s hitting .388 with seven homers and 52 RBI through 44 games. In ACC games, the switch-hitter owns a staggering .494 average. He’s already notched three or more hits in 10 games this season and has had four hits in four games.
The righthander’s 3.03 ERA in 20 appearances and five saves also lead the team.
Even Wieters has been caught a little off-guard by his immediate success on this level. “I really didn’t think I could play like this as quickly as I have,” he admitted. “You can’t expect to come in as a freshman and have success like this. There’s still a lot of baseball to play, so hopefully it continues.”
Wieters’ most fascinating skill is his ability to play in the field for seven or eight innings and then serve as the team’s closer. Wieters explained that he’s usually loose from playing in the field, cutting down on the amount of warm-ups he needs in the bullpen.
“Your adrenaline is already pumping from playing, so it’s not as tough to get ready as you might think,” he said.
“We liked what we saw during fall workouts, and we knew that he was one of our better pitchers,” Hall stated.
Wieters isn’t the first Yellow Jacket to assume a dual-role. Tucker Barr did it in the mid-90’s and more recently, Victor Menocal, who is now one of the team’s assistant coaches. Hall knew early on that Wieters had the ability to serve in this dual-role.
“You don’t ever expect a freshman to do everything that we’ve asked him to do, so he deserves a lot of credit,” Hall said. “He has a lot of baseball intelligence. He’s just a very good baseball player. He’s performed way beyond any expectations we might have had for him.”
Wieters credits much of that baseball intelligence to his father Richard, who pitched in the Braves and White Sox organizations from 1977-82. His parents urged him to pursue to baseball on the collegiate level rather that jumping straight to the pros.
“My mom’s a teacher, so she encouraged me to go to college,” he explained. “My dad really stressed having something to fall back on in case baseball isn’t there. I came here on my visit, and I just liked the players and coaches a lot. It was the best fit for me.”
Hall, in his 12th season at Tech and his 18th season as a college head coach, said that Wieters reminds him of one of the best players in Yellow Jacket history.
“The only guy I could compare him to is Mark Teixeira, in terms of his maturity, his approach at the plate, how well he competes,” he observed. “There are a lot of similarities between those guys. Now can he do what Mark has done? That’s the million dollar question.”
Wieters’ most recent accolade came in early May in the form of an invitation to 2005 USA Baseball National Team Trials in late June. The team will be selected in July and play series in Japan and Taiwan.
“It’s a pretty select group,” noted Hall. “They only invited 13 in that first group. So to be in that first 13, it tells you what other people in the country think about him.”
“I’ve wanted to play on that team for a while,” added Wieters. “I asked Tyler (Greene) about it, and he said he had a great experience doing it.”
For now, Wieters is focused on finishing the regular season strong, as the Jackets are battling for the ACC crown. Entrenched among the nation’s top ten teams for most of the season, the Jackets are hitting stride as they prepare for the postseason.
The Jackets sit atop the ACC standings, but only by a slim margin heading into the final weeks of the regular season. Virginia Tech visits Atlanta this weekend, and the Jackets travel to Chapel Hill next weekend. The ACC Tournament begins on May 24 in Jacksonville.
“There’s great chemistry on this team,” he said. “The seniors are really great leaders, and they’ve really guided us younger players. We’ve won some big games, so we feel like we’re on a roll now. We’re winning, and we’re having a lot of fun, so it can’t get much better.”