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Q&A with Matt Antonelli
Closely following the ongoings on our favorite sports, teams, and players has continued to become increasingly easier with the accessibility of the Internet and social media outlets. Things certainly are much different today than they were even ten years ago. Through those very same outlets, fans have much more access to the players they admire. We can see glimpses of what their lives are like off the field. We are privileged to insights into how players think and feel. We see how they view the very same events that affect our lives on a daily basis. Twitter and Facebook have been largely influential in such advancements, but so too are the existence of blogs such as this one and the blogs that some of these players take the time to write themselves.
From time to time, these new outlets allow us to get close enough to players so that we may actually have a conversation with them. Such an interaction is something completely unheard of years ago. Countless bloggers out there have gained access to players, both stars and minor leaguers, in an effort to ask a few questions and gain some of that insight. Here at Blogging From The Bleachers, I have been fortunate to become one of those bloggers.
Matt Antonelli is a recent signee to a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals. The infielder is originally from and currently makes his offseason home in Peabody, Massachusetts where he was a three-sport (baseball, football, and hockey) standout during his high school career. Upon graduating he went on to attend Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, North Carolina where he spent the next three years. He has been a part of the Major League Baseball fraternity since originally signing his first contract shortly after the 2006 Amateur Draft. Matt writes and operates his own blog throughout the season, aptly titled “The Official Blog of Matt Antonelli”, where he talks baseball, strength training, what he does on off days, about his beloved New England Patriots, and many more subjects. He can also be found on Twitter (@MattAntonelli9) where he’s constantly sparking conversations with his followers and fans. Matt has been gracious enough to answer a few questions via email for me.
Q: Now, I know there aren’t many players in the history of the game to come from Massachusetts (649 in total, according to Baseball Reference). Going back to your high school playing days, do you remember being scouted much? Anything specific the scouts might have advised you to focus on in order to really standout?
A: I definitely don’t run into too many players from my home state of Massachusetts. During my high school years I was scouted by a decent number of teams and ended up being drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Being a Northeast kid who really didn’t get to play a whole lot of baseball year-round, I was considered a “raw” type of player by many scouts. I knew if I wanted to succeed in professional baseball I had a lot of developing to do, which is one of the reasons why I chose to attend Wake Forest University in North Carolina instead of deciding to go pro.
Q: That summer, the 2003 Draft, you were selected by the Dodgers in the 19th round. What made you decide to go to college instead of signing? Would you have chosen that route regardless of what might have been offered by whatever team drafted you?
A: I guess I should have read Question #2 before I answered Question #1, ha ha. I think if I was chosen in the 1st or 2nd round my decision would have been a lot tougher. I always wanted to play professional baseball, but I understood that I could always go to college, get my education, continue to develop as a player, and re-enter the draft after my Junior year. That is the route I ultimately chose.
Q: After your career at Wake Forest, you were selected in the 1st round of the 2006 Draft (#17 overall) by the San Diego Padres. Take us back to that day for a moment. How did you find out? What was your reaction? How did you feel about being a 1st round draft pick?
A: We had a get-together at my house for draft day which a lot of friends and family attended. I found out I was drafted when the Padres selected me and called to inform my of their choice. It definitely felt great being a 1st round pick. One of my goals after being selected in the 19th round out of high school was to be a 1st round pick out of college.
Q: Just two years after being drafted you were named as the #50 best prospect on Baseball America’s Top 100 list going into the 2008 season. Did you feel the ranking put more pressure on your shoulders to perform at a high level that year?
A: I actually had no more pressure on me after that 2007 season than any other season. I haven’t played well since 2007 after a combination of things have occurred. I have had unfortunate injuries over more than the last two seasons and somehow lost my swing during that time. I would have loved to cruise through the Minor Leagues and straight to the Major Leagues for good, but I think every person that wants to accomplish a goal is going to be met with adversity at some point along their journey. I feel very good heading into this year.
Q: Despite having an off year at the plate for AAA Portland (.215/.335/.322 in 540 plate appearances, 30 extra base hits, 6 stolen bases), you made your MLB debut that September for the Padres. What was it like to find out you had been called up? Were there any nerves or did you feel completely confident in yourself?
A: I felt very weird being called up in 2008. I was in the middle of the worst baseball performance of my life. I was obviously very excited to make my MLB debut, but it definitely wasn’t the way I had envisioned it a few years prior. My next call up will be much different from that in 2008.
Q: Your debut came with a start at second base on September 1st against the Dodgers. Greg Maddux was the opposing starting pitcher. You singled to center field in your first at bat for your lone hit on the day. Maddux is one of the greatest pitchers in baseball history. So how’d it feel to get your first career hit off a baseball legend? Did you get to keep the ball? Do you still have it?
A: Just being able to get my first hit in a Major League uniform would have definitely been a tremendous highlight in my baseball career, but to be able to do it against one of the better pitchers of all time was something very special. I did get to keep the ball and have it at my house in Massachusetts.
Q: Unfortunately an injury struck during the 2009 season that caused you to miss most of the year and nearly all of the 2010 season. How’d it happen? How’d you feel about the situation? Did you ever feel like the doctors were wrong in their diagnosis? Did you think you could return faster than they had estimated?
A: Over the past two years I have actually had two different injuries that have cost me a lot of playing time. The first was a minor leg injury that kept me out of the lineup for about 40 games or so. It took a little while to figure out what the problem was, but once we did it healed pretty quickly. The major injury I had was a broken hamate bone in my hand and the removal of a cyst that had formed. It is kind of complicated to explain and may take a couple of pages, ha ha.
Q: After sticking with you through your rehab, the Padres let you go at the end of the past season. Was there a part of you upset or disappointed by their decision?
A: Well, I definitely enjoyed my time with the Padres over the past five seasons. They were the team that selected me in the draft and got my career started, so I appreciate the fact that they put their trust in me. Things didn’t go exactly the way I would have hoped over the past few years but many times baseball is like that. I respect their decision and am really looking forward to continuing my career with my new team, the Washington Nationals.
Q: Take us through the free agency process. Did your agent do most of the talking with teams or were you involved? What kind of opportunity were you hoping to find or were you just simply looking for a chance to play again?
A: During free agency my agent would handle all of the negotiations with teams and then reported back to me on what was said. It was the first time in my life where I had to choose between a bunch of different teams and decide where I ultimately would want to play for the upcoming season. I was basically looking for an opportunity where I would be able to get my at bats and prove to the team that I chose that my injuries were in the past and I could help their Major League team at some point during the year.
Q: Coming from Massachusetts I presume you grew up a Boston Red Sox fan. Were you hoping they’d call you about potentially joining the organization?
A: I did grow up a huge Red Sox fan until I was drafted by the Padres in 2006. It would definitely be cool to wear a Sox uniform, but I think they are pretty set at the second base position with that Dustin Pedroia guy, ha ha.
Q: What made you choose the Nationals? Will you be attending Spring Training with them? For much of this offseason rumor has it that they’re still looking for a utility infielder. Do you think that is a role you could fill if given the chance?
A: The Nationals seemed to be one of the teams that was most interested in me, so it is always nice to go somewhere that really wants you. After speaking with a bunch of baseball people, they all had nothing but good things to say about the organization and the people that ran it. They were a team where I could go to the minor leagues this year and get my at bats to show I am fully healthy and can contribute. I will do whatever it is they ask of me, so it they want me to try and play a few positions I would definitely be willing to do that. Whatever it takes to get me back to the Major League level.
Q: What made you first start your blog?
A: My blog started as a way to let my family and friends know how things were going during the season since I was playing across the country and was at the field pretty much all day long everyday of the week. I started to realize that baseball fans had found my blog and were following my writing. It gave me a pretty cool way to interact with people and fans from all over the country, which was something new and fun to do.
Q: What is it about being so connected to the fans that you enjoy?
A: I think what I really like about being able to interact with fans is that I am a huge baseball fan myself. I would have loved to be able to talk and ask questions to some of my favorite players growing up, so having the chance to talk to fans of mine is very rewarding. I would say that 99% of my interactions with fans are positive and that is why I’ve continued to do it. Every now and then I will receive an email, Twitter, Facebook message, or blog comment letting me know that they think I am a horrible baseball player, but that just comes with the territory, ha ha.
Q: I’m a big autograph and memorabilia collector. I’ve always been curious, do any players collect autographs and memorabilia? Do you? Have anything cool or unique in your personal collection? What is accepted in clubhouses as far as asking for items? What about asking a player in the opposite clubhouse for an autograph?
A: Actually a lot of players collect autographs and memorabilia from other guys in the league. I would say that a majority of players are fans of the game of baseball and enjoy the collectibles. I have a few collectibles at my house, my favorites probably being a baseball signed by Roger Clemens that I got as a little kid at Fenway Park and a signed hockey stick by Bobby Orr that I received from him at one of my hockey games as a youngster. As far as asking players for autographs, usually the first day you get to an opposing team’s park or the first day they get to yours you can ask the clubby to grab you an autograph that you may want from an opposing player.
Q: How do you approach fans who request items from you?
A: I’d say I sign most of my autographs during Spring Training, but usually before any game I will sign autographs or take pictures for fans. I find it fun and don’t mind taking a few minutes out of my day to sign autographs. Hey, I think it’s pretty cool that someone would actually want me to sign something for them in the first place!
Q: What are your goals for 2011 from a professional standpoint?
A: I have a lot of goals for myself this season. My first goal is to stay healthy. I went my entire life up until 2009 without ever being injured, so I never knew what it was like to not be healthy enough to play baseball. I think if I can stay healthy I will have a very successful 2011 season. Ultimately, I want to get back to the Major Leagues and help the Nationals win a World Series. Thanks for all the questions!