I have found work recently as a painter and was in a town here in Northern California called Danville last week, doing interior work on a house. I got to talking with one of the homeowners, and it turns out she is from Sacramento, like me and went to high school with Matt Walbeck, a future Major League Baseball player. Walbeck broke in with the Chicago Cubs in 1993, as a catcher, played with four other teams in an eleven-year career and is now a minor league coach.
The homeowner said she still knew Walbeck, and after I explained about this site and inquired about interviewing him, she gave me his email address. I sent Walbeck questions on Thursday, and he got back to me today.
The interview is as follows:
Baseball: Past and Present: You’ve been coaching for six years now. Do you hope to make it to the majors as a manager?
Matt Walbeck: I think if I continue to improve as a manager and at developing players I will manage in the majors.
BP&P: Do you think being a catcher prepared you better for coaching than if you’d been, say, a third baseman?
MW: Having not played any other positions, I can’t compare. There are a lot of solid managers that have played different positions. Catchers are closely connected with the pitching coach, manager, umpires, position players and the pitchers. Understanding pitchers is a big part of managing a baseball team because they make up almost half of the team. Also seeing the whole field from behind the plate helps too.
BP&P: Have any of the managers that you played for influenced your coaching style?
MW: They all have, and so did my Dad who coached my little league teams growing up. My high school coaches Don and Jim Graf were very helpful also. I gleaned a little bit from each of them, which is how any coach creates his or her own style.
BP&P: What kind of advice do you give young players?
MW: Take care of yourself, love what you do, play the game one pitch at a time. And do something every day to become a better player.
BP&P: You were an eighth round draft pick out of Sacramento High School in 1987 for the Chicago Cubs. If you could do it over, would you have gone to play baseball in college and entered the draft later or would you still have signed out of high school?
MW: I wouldn’t change anything. I feel that I learned a lot about life when I signed as a 17 year old and learned how to live on my own. Wytheville, Virginia, the city where I played my first pro season was a small town of about 10,000 people and was like whole new world. Being away from home made me realize how great the Sacramento area is, and how important family is.
BP&P: Baseball-Reference.com says you earned over $4 million in your career. How far does that sort of money go?
MW: It will go as far as you let it. If you spend a lot and don’t save you go broke. It boils down to your spending habits and investing wisely.
BP&P: Do you think you reached your potential as a player?
MW: No. Nobody is perfect and it seems everyone can always improve.
BP&P: How prevalent was the steroid culture in baseball? Was it rampant or has the media made it out to be something bigger than it was?
MW: I guess it was pretty prevalent throughout the years that I played. Fortunately, I decided a long time ago that I wouldn’t try it. The side effects scared me. So, since I wasn’t interested in it, it wasn’t available.
BP&P: Do you still consider Sacramento home? Are you still friends with a lot of people you grew up with?
MW: I grew up in East Sac on 42nd and H and used to hang out at McKinley Park, Sutter Lawn, River Park, etc. It doesn’t get much better than that. My wife, three children and I now live in Old Fair Oaks which is near the American River. There’s lots of outdoor activity and I love to Steelhead fish. I still have lots of friends in the area, some who I went to high school with and others that I have met in Fair Oaks.
BP&P: Last question: Who is your all-time favorite baseball player from Sacramento?
MW: Probably Derek Lee. He’s a true professional and is a tremendous talent both offensively and at first base.