By Austin Matsoff
“God, please help.”
That was the sentence I wanted to scream while lying on my back in a hospital bed, unable to move, in extreme pain, just weeks before the start of my senior season of high school baseball.
I had no clue what was to come in the next year, semester, or even week at that point.
As someone who had always strived for complete control over my life, I found myself in the furthest scenario I could from that.
This was my rock bottom.
This was pure vulnerability.
I still remember my first baseball season. I was nine years old playing in the local little
league. In my first at-bat of the season, I walked up to the plate just as I had seen the other
players on my team do. I got in the box and took a huge hack at the ball, fouling it straight back to the backstop. Hearing my family in the stands cheering, I knew this was where I belonged. That high ended two pitches later when I struck out. I struck out the next at-bat too. . . and the next one. I actually struck out nearly every single at-bat that season, and those I did not strike out in, I walked. That foul ball was the only time I made contact in my entire first season of baseball.
Even though I was little, I understood that if I wanted to play better, I needed to work
for it. That summer, my dad bought a training tool called the “hit-a-way.”
It was essentially a pole with a baseball attached by strings. I would go out in my backyard and take 200 swings every day.
I was not one of the kids who was pushed by their parents to practice every day;
I did this because I wanted to.
In my first at-bat of the next season, I hit a ball in the gap for a triple: my first hit ever. That first taste of work paying off was something that stuck with me, and it became the main factor leading to every bit of success I had in the future.
I continued my journey in baseball, going through the little league to high school, always
trying to outwork everyone else to make up for my lack of athleticism. I had one focus; I wanted to play college baseball.
I was working towards that goal every day, and when that window looked smaller and smaller, I kept pushing myself harder and harder.
I was in the gym two to three times every day during my junior and senior years. I was lifting weights, throwing, running, and doing whatever else I could to make myself into the best baseball player I could be.
Whenever a coach turned me down, I kept working.
Whenever doors shut in my face, I kept pushing.
Finally, after years of nothing, a glimmer of hope appeared. Will Morris, an old friend of mine, reached out to me and asked if I was still looking for a place to play.
I had met Will at summer camp years before this. He was a year older than me and was
playing at MidAmerica Nazarene University. It was a small school in Kansas, and they were
looking to recruit some more pitchers.
He put me in contact with one of the coaches there who asked me to send over some film. He liked what he saw, and right before the end of the fall semester of my senior year, I signed with MNU.
I accomplished what I had been working so hard for. Signing my letter of intent, I thought I had made it, but I could not have been more wrong.
I was on cloud nine for the next few days. I felt like nothing could touch me. That was,
however, until a routine visit with my cardiologist.
I did this every few months just to make sure everything with my heart was clear. My mom had serious heart problems, so she had my brothers and me go to the doctor on a regular basis to get checked out. The appointments usually did not take long because I was always healthy.
This time was different.
I went in and did all the usual tests. After a few minutes, the doctor walked in. She had a
a different look on her face than I was used to.
She always seemed happy and upbeat, but not today. She seemed much more serious, and as she started discussing my test results, it was obvious why.
The doctor looked down at her notes, then up at me, and said, “Your pump function is down very low. We are going to need to get you scheduled for surgery as soon as possible.”
It felt as if time stopped.
I did not hear anything else she said.
All I heard was mumbling between the doctor and my mom.
I was too shocked to speak.
On the drive home, my mom, sensing my anxiety, started talking about what to expect with the procedure. As much as she tried her best to calm me down, I was too nervous. Those nerves worked up until the day of the surgery: December 26, 2019.
I woke up at five in the morning that day. I was starving because I had not been able to
enjoy my Christmas dinner the night before due to surgery preparation.
There were a few hours before I needed to leave but no chance of me getting back to sleep.
My mind was racing from one horrible potential outcome to another. My body was tensing up and I started sweating. I reached to my bedside to grab some water. Without looking, I felt my hand cross the leather binding of my bible.
I grabbed it, turned on the lamp by my bedside, and flipped to a random page. In bold letters, “James” was written on the top of the page. I started reading, and before long, I got to a verse that struck me.
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” –James 1:12
I read the verse over again; then again one more time.
I knew then that God was trying to tell me something. I memorized that verse, and I just kept reciting it in my head. Throughout the drive to the hospital and getting checked in, I repeated that verse over and over.
It had a way of calming me down, something extremely rare in a time like this. I was terrified of this, but the more I repeated that verse, the calmer I felt.
The nurses checked my vitals and put my IV in.
Before I knew it, I was being wheeled back to the operating room. I get through the doors and
was immediately hit by the cold room. I looked around and saw the bright white walls covered
with dozens of stainless steel tools and devices, most of I did not know the name of.
I laid down on the operating table and recited the verse one more time before slipping under the spell of anesthesia.
Before going under, I was told the surgery should take about an hour. I went into the
room at around 11:00.
I woke up abruptly after getting moved into my room, pain shooting all throughout my body.
I looked at the clock.
It was 4:00 in the afternoon.
My parents came in and explained to me the surgery had been much more complex than they had originally thought it would be.
I was alive, and that was all that mattered.
I was not allowed to stand or even sit up until the next morning. I spent the next few
hours watching Netflix on my laptop, and picking at the driest chicken I had ever seen which
was provided by the hospital, while family members trickled in and out.
Before long, everyone had left besides my mom. She went over to a place she could fall asleep and was out like a light.
It was just me now, lying in bed, staring at the ceiling of that hospital room. I had no idea what I was going to do. I did not know if I would be able to play this season. I did not know if my
scholarship offer would be taken away. I had no clue whether or not I would even be able to
touch the field again.
My head was filled with all kinds of uncertainty.
I could feel my heart racing because of the anxiety I had of no longer being in control.
With all things spiraling away from me, I felt lost. I felt like I had hit rock bottom. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and began to pray.
That prayer could only be described as pure vulnerability.
I gave up control.
I put everything in God’s hands because I knew he was the only one that would be able to get me through this.
I remembered that verse, James 1:12.
This was certainly a trial, and I was doing whatever I could to push through it. When I said “amen” to end the prayer, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders.
I felt relaxed, and I was finally able to fall asleep.
The next morning, I was woken up by my mom telling me I needed to try and stand up. I
maneuvered myself to the side of the bed and pulled myself onto my feet. My mom had me
walk up and down the hallway of the hospital, allowing me to find my balance again. I was only able to take very small steps, but it was something, and I was grateful for that.
With each painful step, I knew that it would be a long recovery, but I was going to make it through.
I was released later that day, and when I got home, I opened my bible to read James again.
In life, the only guarantee is trials.
There will always be something that tests one’s endurance.
This was not my only trial. In fact, I had two more heart surgeries in the next 10
months. I learned to control only what I could control. These setbacks never stopped me. I just kept working.
The second I was able to start throwing again, I did.
I finished out my season, maintained my scholarship, then went out to school and continued to play.
I will never forget the feeling of walking out to the mound in my first college game. We were playing under the lights of Rockhurst University.
The walk from the bullpen to the field reminded me of the walk down the hallway of the hospital.
Each step I took was a blessing.
It would have been very easy for me to have given up before this. I very easily could have not made it this far, and nobody would have questioned me. I could have quit after that surgery and held on to that as my excuse for not making it to college baseball.
Instead, I kept pushing forward.
The only way I made it to that position was through extremely hard work and putting my faith in God to do the rest.
Before staring down the first hitter of my college career, I went to the back of the
mound and wrote “James 1:12” in the dirt with my index finger. I said a quick prayer, thanking
God for getting me here, then took the mound. I was extremely nervous before that first pitch. I questioned whether or not I belonged at this level. I took a deep breath and painted a fastball
on the outside corner.
After a few more pitches, I got my first collegiate strikeout with a slider off the plate. I made it. I belonged here.
Those surgeries definitely made things more difficult for me at the time, but they proved to be great tests for my endurance. Having gone through these, I can now face trials head-on, knowing I can get through them.
I play every game as if it was my last.
Seeing how fast everything can go away makes me cherish every game, practice, and workout so much more.
This game is a privilege.
Life is a privilege.
Knowing that allows me to enjoy every bit of it so much more.
Dealing with the Pressure of Your Family Name
The Grieves: A Family of Baseball
Baseball has always been the center of my life. When I was growing up at a young age, I never really felt the pressures of having so much rich baseball history in my family, but the older I got, the more people noticed my last name.
The pressure that came with my family name impacted how I treated the game. My parents did not put any pressure on how far I made it playing. They always just wanted me to play the game respectfully because the name on the back of my jersey carried a lot of baseball knowledge and experience.
My dad Ben was drafted second overall in 1994 by the A’s, my uncle Tim was drafted in 1994 by the Royals, and my grandpa Tom was drafted sixth overall by the Senators in 1966.
Consequently, the pressure was on my younger brother and me to be baseball players.
I doubt my brother realizes that yet, and I definitely didn’t know it at his age, but now, I realize. Every coach that I have ever played for knows who my dad is. When I go to big tournaments, people come up to me and ask if I am related to Ben or Tom. I definitely feel like people are always watching me when I am playing and that there are always high expectations for me to perform well.
However, I have taken this in the best way possible most of the time as I use the pressure to motivate me to reach the expectations people have on me.
Other times, it has been more challenging, though. When I make mistakes, I feel even worse than I should because I feel those same people watching are disappointed. It is nearly impossible not to compare myself to my dad or grandpa when everyone else is.
When I am playing at my worst, I wonder if my dad experienced those same struggles, and that weighs over me.
It is a blessing to have so much experience and knowledge of the game at home with me, as I essentially have the best built-in hitting coach possible in my dad, but it is also hard to learn from someone who had baseball come so easy to them.
My dad can give me all the mechanical advice I need, but when it comes to mental advice, he cannot offer the same direction as he does on physical parts of the game.
I struggled majorly with the mental half of the game for most of my life, as the pressure I put on myself was often way more than I knew how to handle. In comparison, my dad was the top prospect in the world when his senior year in high school rolled around, which is where I am right now.
He never dealt with the mental struggles I have endured, at least not as a high schooler. In that sense, I feel helpless when I get in my head, as the tremendous mentoring of my dad becomes less and less valuable.
He can offer some changes to my swing and slight adjustments that might help me get back on track, but he can’t help me get out of my head when I go through a rough stretch at the plate.
With that, I have learned to embrace the mental toughness I have developed, as I have never once thought about giving up. Despite all the struggles I have endured playing the game, I still only want to be better and work harder.
Maybe my mental struggles are a blessing more than a downfall.
I have used them as my motivation to practice more with my dad when I am struggling. Yes, I get down on myself, but everyone does when they struggle. And baseball is a sport of struggling, but I have never backed away from the competition or the challenge. What I once considered my weakness in baseball, I now consider a strength. When I am at my worst, my inner doubt has only forced me to become better. It is a unique part of my game that no one can compare to my dad, uncle, or grandpa.
Addressing the Future of Baseball in 2021
QnA with 50 Year MLB Coach and Scouting Veteran, Jerry Weinstein.
This week I caught up with Jerry Weinstein, a long-time baseball buff, to say the very least. Jerry began his coaching career back in 1966 as a freshman coach at UCLA, and today, after an unprecedented coaching run that found him atop leading Team Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Classic qualifiers, he now finds himself a part of The Colorado Rockies Player Development System as a Scouting Special Assistant.
With fifty-plus years of experience in the game of baseball at the highest level, I thank Jerry for answering our audience’s question amidst a time of significant adjustment for the game of baseball. Upon receiving this great opportunity, I wanted to hear from our audience and have their questions answered by Jerry. Dictated by your questions, this was the extent of our conversation:
What behavioral issues do you run into with players at the professional level, and what can we do as coaches when we have these players younger to foster better habits or character?
“We have fewer behavioral issues at the pro level because there is so much internal competition & there are really no fallback options. The organization has the leverage. With that being said, it’s all about choices & owning those choices realizing that there are consequences for poor choices. Transfer of blame is not an option. The key is establishing standards of behavior & consistently holding the athletes to those standards.”
What are we doing now in the industry that is hurting participation and the retention of good athletes in the game of baseball? As we witness, athletes to the likes of Kyler Murray choose not to pursue baseball professionally.
“Retention-Make it fun. Connect with the players as people & not just players. Be positive. Know what you are doing. Allow for individual differences. Be organized & have enough help to keep players moving in small groups. Short-tempo practices & games. Make it competitive. Player-centric environment. It’s more about them than the scoreboard. It’s a collaborative effort between players, coaches & parents.”
What are your thoughts on the game of baseball missing out on talented players with the shortened draft and college rosters overflowing? With 1,525 draft selections in 2010 and only 160 in 2020…
Professional baseball does not miss very often. Maybe they don’t get slotted the way they end up, but good players do not go unseen. If they are playing somewhere, they will be seen. It may be in an Indy League where many late bloomers & players from lower-profile programs thrive. If they have tools or are playing up to professional standards, they will be seen. The problem lies in the fact that we are losing a lot of the better athletes to other sports. We need to do a better job of attracting those athletes & retaining them. MLB is making a real effort in that area in the inner cities with its RBI program. I’m concerned that the current Travel Team movement has priced a lot of the economically challenged families out.
I want to once again thank Jerry for his priceless insight and wisdom. His generosity in answering these questions I know will go a long way for our audience memebers. The game of baseball, perhaps having always faced unprecedented times, now faces reconstruction and rebranding efforts post pandemic. With the universal designated hitter (DH) now active in both the American and Nation League, the game of baseball now looks to another evolution in rules for greater growth amongst fan bases and most imporantly, youth. Baseball’s ability to keep promising athletes in the sport will set the horizon the future of baseball is destined for.
The San Francisco Giants 107 Win Season Should Be Remembered for More Than Painful Ending
Recapping the Incredible Run of the 2021 San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants season came to an end in game 5 of the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers this past week.
The game ended in San Francisco with the Giants down just one run on a check swing appealed and called a strike against the hot bat of Wilmer Flores. It is by no means a surprise that much of sports media has run with the Giants’ season-ending call.
Some even rank the Giants among the top teams in MLB history to have the most painful season-ending loss. But the fact of the matter is the ’21 Giants might have pulled off one of the most impressive seasons in MLB History.
From the resurrection of Buster Posey to the resurgence of past greats like Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt, Gabe Kapler’s squad should be beyond proud of their efforts. Kapler not only led his team to 107 wins after the team had finished with losing records for the last four years but utilized vital players off the bench like Donovan Solana and Austin Slater to plot many late-inning comebacks.
The ’21 Giants also saw the birth of unlikely heroes unforeseen going in Spring Training like Kris Bryant, who was picked up at the trade deadline, and LaMonte Wade Jr., whose late-inning heroics all year, earned him the title “Late Night Lamonte.”
Overall, to let the Giant’s season go to waste or be manipulated to provoke fan and public reaction because of one “highly disputed” call would be an act of great injustice. The fact also remains that no one game comes down to any single call; the Giants had missed out on multiple scoring opportunities before the 2-1 deficit.
And at the end of the day, the Dodgers had just played better baseball that evening; Gabe Kapler said after the game, “I have no regrets, congratulations to that very talented squad on the other side.” We hope to acknowledge the magic the San Francisco Giants created this season for the fans and world of baseball and remind people never to be swayed by the narratives of “BLOWN CALL RUINS SEASON” columns and tabloids. Congratulations to the 2021 San Francisco Giants!