Posted: 01/24/2013 | Last updated: January 25, 2013 at 11:10 AM
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The distance between Lehigh University’s baseball field and 2001 Blake St. in Denver, Colo. is 1,731 miles, but the journey of Lehigh alumnus Matt McBride to that address was much longer. Though he has played amongst the elite athletes in the game of baseball, McBride has not forgotten that the starting point on his lifelong expedition to the Major Leagues began in Bethlehem, Pa.
It’s August 4, 2012 and San Francisco Giants starter Madison Bumgarner has just finished his warm-up tosses in the bottom of the third inning. Many times he had heard his name announced for an at bat but this time was different, this time was special. For the first time in his career, Lehigh alumnus Matt McBride heard his name echo throughout 2001 Blake St. in Denver Colo., the home of the Colorado Rockies, Coors Field.
"I think there was more nerves than anything that day," said McBride. "I was definitely excited, but a lot of butterflies and nervous tension."
McBride finished the night going 2-for-4 with a double and a RBI in his Major League debut. That night and the 2012 season will always hold a special spot in McBride’s memory, but so does Bethlehem, Pa. and the colors brown and white.
In 2006, the Cleveland Indians selected McBride out of Lehigh in the supplemental second round of the Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft with the 75th overall pick. He spent seven years in the minors, bouncing from the Indians organization to the Rockies in 2011 as a part of the blockbuster trade-deadline deal that sent 2010 Cy Young candidate Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland.
Even though he had finally made the major leagues after spending seven seasons in the minors, McBride stills returns to Lehigh University’s Goodman Campus for winter workouts, quietly blending in with the rest of the 2013 Lehigh baseball team.
"It was a bit of a long road," said McBride. "I got to play through ups and downs, suffered some injuries. I ended up played at every level from Rookie League to Triple-A before I made it to the big leagues this year. It was a better learning experience to grind it out. You have to stay focused each year on what you are trying to do and try to get better."
"There’s always somebody right behind you that you are trying to stay one step ahead of," McBride continued. "It gets to be a mental grind as well, the whole aspect of going out there every day and knowing that you have to perform at your best."
He enjoys working out inside Rauch Fieldhouse, hitting "flips" in the batting cage, taking swings off a tee and playing catch with Lehigh’s 2013 squad. One of the most unselfish things McBride does with the team is catching bullpens for Lehigh’s pitchers. It is one of the duties most would hesitate if asked to do, but McBride jumps at the chance to put the gear on and catch, knowing he may be doing the same thing come February when he reports to Scottsdale, Ariz. for spring training.
"It’s a great set up inside the fieldhouse," said McBride. "I am able to take ground balls, hit in the cage and catch some bullpens. I like helping the team out when they have a lot of pitchers throwing. It helps me out to live close to here and be able to get a good workout in."
"I do some drills with the guys and it’s great, I really enjoy getting out here with them," McBride continued. "Getting to catch some bullpens here really helps me get my legs in shape for spring training. Even though I’m more of an emergency catcher during the season, if you can catch, they are going to put you behind the plate during spring training to help because they have so many pitchers."
Some of Lehigh’s newcomers got their first encounter with McBride and are soaking up every opportunity to learn from the big leaguer. His story sets a goal and gives some of the players affirmation that their dream is still within reach.
"This is awesome, he’s the real deal," said Lehigh freshman catcher Chris Leach. "It’s kind of surreal that a player like that came through this program not too long ago. We see how successful he is and he came through here, it makes you feel like you have a chance to do that too. He’s really inspiring."
Head coach Sean Leary has been more than happy to have McBride at his workouts, being able to enjoy the company of one of his most successful protégées before he returns to the grind of a professional baseball season.
"He works out on his own, but a lot of times our guys will find out when he’s working out and ‘get some extra work in,’" said Leary. "He comes to practice to watch and be around our kids, and I think he underestimates the value that is to them. He really appreciates where he came from and, at the same time, we love the fact that we can provide him with the facilities to continue to work."
Though McBride will need to leave Bethlehem early this season to report to Scottsdale, Ariz., Leary and McBride keep in touch often during the season. The Bethlehem, Pa. native and Liberty graduate still reaches out to his college coach to talk during a grueling summer campaign.
"Coach Leary is a great coach and a great guy," said McBride. "I’d say I give him a call at least once a month during the season just to talk about what’s going on. He got to see me play a lot in college and he’s still my coach even though I’ve moved on."
"Matt and I have stayed in close contact for the seven years that he has been playing professional baseball," said Leary. "Sometimes it’s mechanics, the mental side or just to catch up, but when he found out that he got that call to the big leagues he called me from the dugout in Colorado. We only talked for a minute because he had a game to play, but it was just kind of an ‘I made it’ moment."
He has regularly returned to Lehigh University’s campus for offseason training, using Rauch Fieldhouse to get himself ready for what could be his first Major League Baseball opening day. McBride has enjoyed success at almost every level of the minor leagues, posting a career .292 batting average with 79 home runs and 438 RBI in the MiLB, including a trip to the 2012 Triple-A All-Star Game in Buffalo, N.Y.
He was the last position player off the bench for the Pacific Coast League, but made his only at bat count, tripling off the left field wall in the top of the ninth inning en route to the PCL’s 3-0 victory over the International League at Coca-Cola Field.
McBride will look to continue his success in professional baseball this season as position players are scheduled to report to spring training on February 16 with the first workout the next day as he and the Rockies prepare for the 2013 season, but he stills keeps a close eye on the Mountain Hawks.
"I like to keep tabs on how the team (Lehigh) is doing in the spring," said McBride. "I jump online and read about what the team is up to."
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