Cheryl Pursell

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  • Matt McBride is a Bethlehem, Pa. native and Lehigh University alum playing for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Now, there's a chance he can get called up to the hometown Phillies.
By Mitch Goldich
May 03, 2018

Matt McBride made his MLB debut with the Rockies in 2012. This season, the Bethlehem (Pa.) native is playing for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Phillies’ triple-A team. He grew up 15 minutes from the team’s home stadium—before the team or the stadium existed—and played his college ball at Lehigh, also just down the road. He and his wife also make their offseason home about 20 minutes from his new home park. SI caught up with McBride for a Q&A what life is like as the hometown veteran on a triple-A team.

SI: You went to school at Lehigh, in the same town where you grew up. Was that a no-brainer, or did you look at other schools as well?

Matt McBride: Honestly, I always wanted to go down south to play. But then as I got older, their coach—who’s still there—he was the first one that ever reached out and recruited me. … Looking back I’m really happy that I went to Lehigh and made the decision that I did. And I just graduated in January, I finally finished up.

SI: Online or on campus?

MM: A little of both. I had neck surgery in 2013. When that happened, I was able to go back to school. I was home in August. I went back home because there was really not much I could do, rehab-wise. Since I was home, and my season was over, I enrolled back at Lehigh and was able to take a bunch of my required classes in the fall semester. After that I was able to pretty much finish up with online classes.

SI: Your junior year you hit for the triple crown in the Patriot League, which is pretty rare for a catcher. Does that fun fact still follow you around at all?

MM: The thing I was always happy with, is that I stole like 22 bases that year. That sort of came out of nowhere. I always thought that was funny. Previous years I might have had a couple, and then all of a sudden that year I was able to steal a bunch of bags.

SI: What was the decision process like this offseason when you signed with the Phillies?

MM: Usually it lines up with who’s most interested in you? Then where’s the best fit? Going into this year, I was hopeful the Phillies would be interested. We reached out to them when I officially became a minor league free agent and they got back at the end of November. They sent a contract over and everything worked out really well. It’s something that I always hoped would happen. Just to be able to have home games actually at home would just be amazing.

SI: Did you grow up as a Phillies fan?

MM: Yeah. My dad and I used to go to a bunch of Reading Phillies games, because Lehigh Valley wasn’t there. [The team’s first season was 2008.] I was already drafted by then, so I never got a chance to go there. But the Phillies were the team I followed growing up.

SI: So what was it like going to Phillies spring training? Had you ever been to Clearwater?

MM: That was another neat thing. In college my junior year, we played Penn State at the Phillies’ stadium. We also scrimmaged or had an exhibition game against one of the minor league teams while we were down there. That was the last time I had been there. So getting down there was a little bit surreal.

[McBride spent the 2007 and 2008 spring trainings in Florida, in minor league camp as a member of the Indians’ organization. Then he spent spring training in Arizona from 2009 through 2017.]

It was weird having those memories, then being down there for major league spring training. It was like wow, that’s pretty crazy what’s transpired in that time.

SI: How did it feel to put on the Phillies’ uniform for the first time?

MM: Having those memories as a kid, growing up as a Phillies fan, being able to put on the Phillies uniform was awesome. But then you start going through the process of a normal spring training and it just starts to become the every day. Alright, it’s my job. But every once in a while it hits you: Oh man, this is awesome. You’re playing for the team you grew up rooting for, your hometown team.

SI: The IronPigs came into existence right around when you left Lehigh. Was that exciting? How did your friends and family feel about having a team so close by?

I can remember growing up there was talk about bringing in a minor league for forever, and things would fall through. I know at one point they were talking about building a stadium in Bethlehem. I don’t even know how far that got, maybe it was just a rumor. But there was always talk about it. And then finally the IronPigs built a stadium in Allentown. I think it’s a great set up. It’s close to Philly, they get great fan support. It’s a good spot for us to be.

SI: I’m sure you would love to be back in the majors, but you must have known that starting the season in the minors was a strong possibility. Did the possibility of playing in the Lehigh Valley affect your decision to sign with the Phillies?

MM: Yeah, I mean that was definitely a major factor, having that closeness to home. After playing baseball for a while, you’re always gone, it can be a grind. My wife and I, we had talked about it, like, ‘Man wouldn’t that work out great?’ But at the same time, there are 30 teams. The team has to be interested in you and everything has to fall into place. But we were always hopeful that one day this would happen.

SI: You came up as a catcher, but now you split time in a few different spots. How did you decide that was something you needed to do? Or did somebody in an organization tell you that was something you’d need to do?

MM: That’s also sort of funny. I started moving around after I had labrum surgery in 2007 when I was rehabbing. I was with the Indians and there was another guy who was a catcher then—Carlos Santana. After I was coming back from that shoulder surgery, they started moving me to outfield and first because Santana was pretty much our everyday catcher in double-A in 2009.

[Santana also signed with the Phillies this offseason, a three-year, $60 million deal to play first base.]

SI: Was it fun seeing Carlos again at spring training this year?

MM: Yeah. It’s weird sometimes when you think about how fast time goes. It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were playing together with the Indians in the minor leagues.  Now he’s one of the best players in the big leagues. It’s sort of funny.

A few days later, at the IronPigs’ home opener, McBride starts at first base and hits seventh in the order. He hits a two-run homer in the third inning and a grand slam in the eighth in a 13-1 win over the Louisville Bats.

SI: What was it like taking the field that night?

MM: It was a special experience, just being close to home and having a lot of family and friends there to support me. It was definitely a game I won’t forget. Waking up in my own bed, driving to the park in the morning, it was surreal.

SI: What was that moment like when you hit that first one?

MM: The first one I hit was pretty much right down the left field line. Right when I made contact, I knew I got it good. I knew it was gonna be at least far enough, it was just a matter of if it would stay fair. It was one of those moments where you really can’t… it just felt great. I can’t really put it into words. It was just a great experience. And our whole team had a hell of a game. It was just a great game all around.

SI: So the second homer. I get that you’re not trying to think about it, but now the bases are loaded. Was any part of you thinking, ‘Boy it would be fun if I hit another one out here’?

MM: The grand slam, the guy that I was facing was a submarine pitcher, a righty. I got to two strikes. I don’t think there’s any guy in baseball that likes facing those guys, especially right on right. I really was just trying with bases loaded, trying to compete up there. I was able to get a good piece of it and it went over the fence. But by no means was I thinking about hitting a home run in those at bats. I was really just trying to keep things simple and keep my mind clear. See the ball and hit the ball.

SI: So where does that rank among some of the coolest moments of your career?

MM: It ranks up there. It’s definitely one of those moments I’ll never forget. Having that support, being home and having a game like that on Opening Night is something that I won’t soon forget.

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