Catching Up With Matt McBride

Catching Up With Matt McBride

Lost, perhaps, in the historic off-season personnel moves of the Philadelphia Phillies is that the organization also preserved the dream of one of the game’s most local, loyal patrons.

In what’s now Matt McBride’s 14th year in professional baseball, his travels have hardly been local, but for a second straight season, the Bethlehem native will work at returning to Major League Baseball from his backyard, playing for the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. The trip is 20 minutes from his driveway at his new Center Valley home to Coca-Cola Park in Allentown.

Until now, though, he’s played for teams like the Class A-Short Season Mahoning Valley Scrapers and the Triple-A Columbus Clippers. He’s played professionally in the Cactus League, and other crazy hot places—and cold ones, too: During his Lehigh University-days’ summer of 2005, he played for the Mat-Su Miners, a college club in the Alaska Baseball League.


“Tears—no,” says the Liberty High graduate and former Major League catcher, first baseman and outfielder. “You can always say, ‘I wish I would have done this or that, or whatever,’ but overall I feel like I always look to the future, at the next year, instead of constantly looking back. There will be time to do that when I’m done, and retired, but right now it’s about what I’ll do tomorrow.”

That’s true for all his hometown Triple-A teammates who open the Pigs’ season April 4 at home against Rochester, and also for those he spent his second Clearwater, FL spring training beside—the likes of celebrated Phillies’ newcomers Bryce Harper—he of the 13-year, $330-million contract—and fellow all-star J.T. Realmuto. Harper plays right field. Realmuto, who arrived in a trade, catches. Established-favorite Rhys Hoskins plays first base, McBride’s other position.

That’s a lot of writing on the wall, not that it’s deterring the now-33-year-old, 6-foot-2, 215-pound utility man and heavy hitter who hasn’t played a major league game since 2016.

“If I didn’t think I had a chance to get back and play in the big leagues, I don’t know if I’d still be playing,” McBride says. “But I still feel that I’ve got something in the tank, and I’m lucky to still be playing, and to have this opportunity within the Phillies organization.”

Ahead of the 2018 season, McBride signed his first of two minor league free agent contracts with the Phillies, then in 190 at-bats with the Pigs, hit .242 and slugged 10 home runs a year ago. In the 2018 home opener, the hometown hero started at first base, hit a two-run homer in the third inning and then a grand slam in the eighth in a 13-1 win over Louisville.

“Most importantly we won the game, but that was a unique and special night,” he says. “I hope we win games this year. I’m going to keep playing, and I love doing it. We’ll see what happens, but you can only control what you can control.”

After McBride helped Liberty High to the 2002 PIAA Class 3A title game in coach Harry Dudeck’s final season, he established school hitting records for coach Sean Leary at Lehigh where he hit for the triple crown in the Patriot League his final year, his junior season. He was the 75th pick in the second round of the 2006 MLB draft by the Cleveland Indians, who plucked him out of Lehigh where McBride did recently finish graduating with a degree in political science.

Six years later, he made his MLB debut with the Colorado Rockies on Aug. 4, 2012—and impressed: In four at-bats, he had two hits, including a double, drove in a run and scored another. But then McBride split the 2013-15 seasons bouncing up and down in the organization. In 42 at-bats with the Rockies in 2015, he was inconsistent.

Granted free agency, after the season he signed a minor league contract with the Oakland A’s, then was assigned to the Nashville Sounds, a Triple-A affiliate, but later called up in late April only to be sent down to Triple-A again. After the 2016 season, he became a free agent again—and so on.

In parts of four MLB seasons, which comprise about a year of total MLB service, McBride has a career .201 batting average in some 200 at-bats. In contrast, he’s hit .290 in 1,000-plus career minor league games, where his statistics include 140 home runs. He knows if he could be more consistent, it would lead to more confidence.

“Inconsistency is the biggest thing—the most important thing,” he says. “You have to be as reliable as possible. You have to maximize the number of quality at-bats, and be a good hitter no matter where you’re at, Triple-A or the big leagues. Sometimes, it’s just about keeping those nerves in check and settling yourself.”

But that’s easier said than done when, instead, worry can overpower production, especially with hitting, and you’re still chasing the dream you first had at age 5. It’s one his parents, Linda and George, still support along with his wife Catherine and new daughter, Magnolia (or Maggie), making it harder for him to leave both for spring training. “I sort of procrastinated packing,” McBride recalls. “I usually do, but I procrastinated a little longer this time.”

Of the difference between the levels of the game he loves, he says it’s often about comfort. “You go up to the big leagues, and it’s a bigger stage, but you need to play your same game without making this at-bat bigger than all your at-bats in Triple-A combined,” McBride says. “I’d sometimes worry about the negatives, and get into my own head, which isn’t a good place to be. Obviously, I haven’t hit as well as I’m capable of in the big leagues, but that also gives me a reason to get back to that level: I know I can hit better than I have.”

As a catcher, every team’s focus revolves around converting low pitches into strikes. Data-driven and chockfull of slow-motion video of those who do it the best, the evolution of receiving has changed.

So has the role of a utility player like McBride, who earlier in his career “joked that I was just good enough to be wherever I was, and decent enough at a little bit of everything,” but back then he figured his flexibility, his utility, was a long-term detriment. Now, he knows it’s prolonged his career.

“Early on, it was more like, ‘He does a lot—but doesn’t have a spot,’” he says. “The last few years versatility has become more valuable. With injuries, teams value flexibility. If I was just a catcher, or just a first baseman or outfielder, I would’ve been done playing four years ago.”

Now, who knows when that day will come, or where he’ll be playing when it does—maybe home games a bit further from home inside Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park. “That would be a great problem to have,” McBride says. “In fact, it wouldn’t even be a problem.”


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