May 7, 2010
By Matt Winkeljohn
As the Yellow Jackets turn into the baseball season’s home stretch, volunteer assistant coach Matt White will miss Saturday’s game against Illinois-Chicago. He’ll be in Athens, hangin’ with Bulldogs.
And he’ll have Head Coach Danny Hall’s blessing.
Here’s a guarantee: you don’t know anyone like White, not unless you’re familiar with a Division I coach who for a day is trading his Tech ball cap for a UGA mortar board and tassle. That’s White. He’s graduating from UGA, and oh, what a strange trip it’s been.
You sign a letter of intent to play baseball at Georgia Tech only to be selected in the first round of the Major League draft and instead go pro, as White did in 1996, and that puts you in select company. Pitch in the pre-Olympics (2000) and the pool of people who can say they’ve met these three criteria shrinks.
Blow out your rotator cuff, endure three surgeries – including a career ender in 2006 — and you won’t be the only one, but just how many of your ailing brothers in arms will be able to say they first hit checkpoints 1, 2 and 3 on this list? This bettor says zero.
Just in case, one last line of demarcation: your field of study is wildlife biology (which is why you weren’t studying at Tech in the first place), and you probably will never use that knowledge but to manage your own sizable tracts of land (currently in Kansas and Georgia) and advise friends and family.
So, who do you know like this?
“It’s mostly recreational,” White said of his college major. “After my playing career, I wanted to do something I was interested in. It’s a possibility [as a vocation], but for right now I’m interested in coaching; that’s my passion. With a degree, I’ll be able to get a full-time job.”
That would be a coaching job, and there is the bottom line: White wants to coach at the college level.
So after being drafted No. 7 overall by the Giants before signing with Tampa Bay via a loophole, and then pondering the rest of his life once he hung up his spikes about 10 years later, he called the college coach to whom he once pledged.
He’d first injured his shoulder in a 2000 pre-Olympics exhibition game against Australia, and just when he felt he was returning to form, re-injured the shoulder. Time to do something else.
“I’ve been here for three years and loved every minute of it,” said White, who does a little of everything, working with position players and pitchers to aid Hall and assistants Bryan Prince and Tom Kinkelaar. “Last summer, I got the chance to coach the 18-and-under U.S. team in Venezuela (in the world championships). I was the pitching coach and we won the gold medal.
“I think I have an aptitude for it, and a great story I can share, and it’s something I can be very good at. I could have gone right into professional coaching, but I went for my degree to work with student-athletes. I value education, and . . . working with college-age athletes suits my personality.”
Truth be told, when White left the Tampa area, he didn’t call Hall for sake of a guilty conscience or just because he wanted to jump start a possible college coaching career. It all lined up.
“When we moved up here from St. Pete after my playing career was over, I was looking for hunting property,” White said. “My wife (Kristin) went to UGA, and we wanted property near there so we could go to football games and she’s active in her sorority out there.”
This is a Pennsylvania native who has long been as comfortable in a deer stand as on a pitching mound, no less at home with a rifle than a bat (to bunt, of course). He needed a degree to chase his passion; why not study something that would help him serve his other passion?
“I’m a big-time hunter, and I’ve had some friends ask questions about managing property, white-tail deer, turkey, quail,” he said. “Basically, it’s habitat management. For white tail deer, you have to manage cover, certain food, clovers, sorghum and plants that improve antler size and that kind of thing.”
White has a hunch he can do more than manage property and the wildlife on it.
“Signing out of high school, you’re 18 and on your own, I wish I’d been a little more focused on my routine,” he said. “That’s another reason I want to be in college to tell kids their best option is getting that education. Set yourself up. I wasted two or three years of my career not doing everything right.
“Once my brain started catching up to my body and I started rolling, that’s when injuries started coming. I’d love to stay in Georgia, but if I have to go somewhere to start my career . . . if I can find a program that is close to what Georgia Tech is about that will be fantastic.”