First Person - December 15, 1999

Tiger hurler bids game adieu

A former minor leaguer, Matt Golden '94 has a new perspective on baseball

By Matt Golden '94

As I prepare to watch Roger Clemens and the New York Yankees battle Pedro Martinez and the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series, I recall the feelings that baseball stirred in me as a child. I passionately rooted for Ron Guidry, Willie Randolph, and the rest of my beloved Yankees as they battled the hated Red Sox and Kansas City Royals each year. I believed in my heart that Reggie Jackson would always hit the big home run, and I cried when Thurman Munson died in a plane crash.

Those feelings have changed over the years. Baseball has changed for me. No, I am not disgruntled with the state of the game today. I have just been very lucky. In 1994, on the eve of my graduation from Princeton, I was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in major league baseball's free agent draft. During the next three years, baseball took me through many highs and lows. It provided me with an array of experiences and a new perspective from which to view the game and those who play it.

One week after receiving my diploma, I reported to the Cardinals' class A affiliate, New Jersey Cardinals. With a stomach full of nerves, I joined a team that included high school draftees, college players like myself, first round draft picks who had received huge signing bonuses, and players from throughout the United States, Cuba, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. We had only our meager paychecks and an intense desire to play major league baseball as a common bond. A career minor leaguer named Roy Silver managed that team through what for most of us was our initiation into professional baseball. Roy handled a multitude of personalities and guided us to a league championship. His steady, calming, and confident manner was much like that of another manager that I played for, Joe Torre.

Today, Joe Torre guides the Yankees in their quest for a 25th World Series title. In 1995, when Torre was managing the St. Louis Cardinals, I spent two weeks of spring training in their major league camp. One day I was called into Torre's office, where Torre himself took the time to tell me I was being sent back to minor league camp. Though my time in the majors was short, I had pitched one successful inning, I proudly took home a uniform with the name Golden emblazoned above the number 78 (a clue that my stay in the majors would not be long). I left Torre's office that day understanding why his players are so loyal to him. He was not obligated to deliver the news, but in doing so, he showed that he cared. In his tenure with New York, Torre has gained acclaim for his handling of players, and the Yankees have prospered under his leadership.

Torre was not my only brush with fame in those years. I met Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, and Steve Carlton. I became friends with current Cardinal players Manny Aybar, Matt Morris, Rich Croushore, and Eli Marrero. I gave up a tape measure home run to Montreal Expos' all-star Vladamiere Guerrero, and I struck out Atlanta Braves center fielder Andruw Jones. Every night when I turn on ESPN or any major league baseball game, I see the guys that I played with and against. I was fortunate to have a successful professional career. I progressed through class A and class AA levels, pitched in big games, and won a championship before an injury ended my career. These were all great and valuable experiences, but what means more are the friends I made and the things I learned.

I know the players I see on television. I know what goes through their minds during a game and what is discussed in the locker room and bullpen. I root against Jarret Wright of the Cleveland Indians, not because his team rivals the Yankees, but because he was a hard-throwing headhunter in the South Atlantic League in 1995. I tell my friends and family about the exploits of Guerrero, Jones, and others. It meant a great deal to me to see unheralded minor leaguer and friend Joe McEwing break into the Cardinals starting lineup and score on both Mark McGwire's 62nd and 70th home runs last year.

As a child I viewed major league players as heroes. They were stars who had reached the pinnacle of athletic achievement. Now I view them as people. I still love baseball and I watch the Yankees religiously, but I do it from a different perspective.

Matt Golden '94 is paw's assistant editor.

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