The 2012 season has been a blessing for Wilmington Blue Rocks first baseman Matt Fields. After six years in the Tampa Bay Rays organization and a season of independent ball with Southern Illinois, Fields walked away from the game he loved, to please his then-fiancee.
However his first love lured him back (thus losing his fiancée). He started the 2012 season back with Southern Illinois and the KC Royals signed him and assigned him to Wilmington in mid-May. “This is probably one of the best years playing pro ball I’ve had, EVER.”
Fields was kind enough to take time after Sunday’s game to talk about baseball, the playoffs, and the Humpty Dance.
What did you miss most about baseball that lured you back in?
Matt Fields: “Basically just the fun. Everything that comes with baseball, is childhood-like dreams. Got a little taste of the real world and didn’t really like it too much. I’m still young. I have a lot of time left, considering it’s baseball. So I was, ‘I need to give it another shot’.”
Being the elder statesman on the team (he’s 27), have you shared some knowledge with your younger teammates?
MF: “I have. I’m definitely still learning. I might be the oldest guy on the team, or one of the oldest guys on the team, but at the same time, this game’s frustrating. You get caught in the moment sometimes. Just basically relax, have fun. Just make it easy: see the ball, hit the ball. Don’t get too down on yourself because that’s why we play every day. It’s not like one day we play and then we’re off for a week or anything like that. We play every day, so we have to have a different mentality every time we go out.”
Coming from independent ball, how would you compare it with Wilmington?
MF: “Ahh, man. I’m not going to say it’s two different worlds because it’s the same game, but it’s definitely two different worlds. There’s some guys there that know they have no shot of coming to affiliated ball, so they’re just playing, having fun. Their attitude is just like ‘whatever’, ‘I’m gonna throw whatever I want, do whatever I want’. And here, it’s more controlled and people have a mindset of ‘I’m trying to make it to the big leagues’. So everybody works a little harder. The competition, it makes you want to compete even more. And you get stuck in independent ball, sometimes you kind of get complacent and you end up saying ‘this is the only shot for me so I can’t really go anywhere so I’m gonna play at the level that got me here’. So it’s definitely two different worlds.”
After playing in the Rays organization, are there similarities or difference you see with the Royals?
MF: “The rules. Pants up and clean shaven. Just the rules, but at the same time, it gets us prepared for the next level to where we can wear our pants down and be professional and stuff like that. I think it’s definitely the same, I’m not gonna lie.”
So you wouldn’t be wearing your pants up?
MF: “Heck no. If I had my own idea of what I would wear, my pants would be rocked to the floor, would be Manny Ramirez pajamas. I’d be wearing baggy clothes all over the place. But you can’t do that [here]. You have to be professional. I’m definitely all about being professional.”
Being a power hitter (he has 17 homeruns in 253 High-A at-bats), what types of adjustments have you had to make playing here and in this league (the Carolina League) with the bigger ballparks?
MF: “Basically, not trying to swing as hard as possible, every single time. One of my biggest focuses this year was to be a better hitter because I already knew I had the power, so I was trying to nice easy swings. Hit the balls where they’re pitched. That’s basically what I came into this year thinking. Some days, you have your days where you go back to what you originally used to do and you just have to make the adjustment the next day or the next at-bat.”
You talked before about pitchers pitching backwards to you now. Can you talk about the mental aspect of hitting?
MF: “It’s tough. It’s definitely tough. That’s why they always tell us we need to have a plan when we go to the plate. Because if you don’t have a plan, it’s easy to start thinking and trying to think along with the pitchers and that’s exactly what they want you to do. And they got you. So I definitely need to relax and just calm down and go back to the simple crutch of see the ball, hit the ball, and have fun.”
What has it been like playing for a guy like Vance (Wilson), who’s played in the World Series?
MF: “It’s definitely been a fun experience because he brings a sense of urgency, but then he’s relaxed at the same time. So it’s kind of confusing at times. Because you don’t know whether to get rowdy and start breaking stuff or you wanna be like “Hey” (laughs). He’s definitely taught me a lot this season, just about playing from at-bat to at-bat and from pitch to pitch. Not necessarily thinking about all the negative things that happen but take out some of the positives that you do.”
You seem to make at least one nice play a game at first base. Is it something you work on every day and take pride in?
MF: “It’s definitely something I take pride in, my defense. Because I know how hard it is to hit. Defensively, every day I take ground balls. I kind of think of what I would do in certain situations, like am I gonna go to second? Do I have to make a backhand or go get it? So I take serious pride in my defense because that’s something that could never go away. Every play that I’ve made, I’ve practiced it plenty of times, over and over again just in case it happens in the games.”
What was the (clinching) celebration like Thursday night?
MF: “Oh man, it was fun. It was definitely fun. To see that in person, especially everybody’s seen it on the Jumbotron, how we literally were all in a circle. We’re listening to the [Frederick] game, we’re trying to figure out what’s gonna happen. And finally it happened [Frederick lost]. It just, it kinda hits you. All that hard work that you did during the offseason and throughout the whole season and to finally know that you made it to where you need to be and that closer to getting a ring, it’s a great feeling. There’s no other feeling like it, I’ll tell you that.”
Being part of a championship team in the Rays organization, do you think that helps you prepare for the postseason now?
MF: “Oh definitely. That’s the thing, as soon as you get in the playoffs, it doesn’t matter. Stats don’t matter. You doing whatever you do doesn’t matter. It’s all about winning. It’s a team-based situation to where as a team, all we want to do is win. We don’t care about batting averages, who has the most homeruns, who has the most RBIs, who’s doing what. We all come together. We play hard. We win as a team.”
Looking back on the season, what will you take away from it?
MF: “Everything. Because truthfully I think about all the times I could be at home right now. Literally be at home, miserable, and just hating life right now. And the fact that I kept going with my dream and getting picked up and everything. Everything that’s happened right now is a blessing. This is probably one of the best years playing pro ball I’ve had, ever. And then to come to a team to where I automatically was comfortable with them and we kind of just came together and we’re here now [in the playoffs]. It’s definitely a blessing. I’m extremely happy to be here, back and just doing what I love to do.”
Which player did you look up to growing up?
MF: “I’d have to say Ken Griffey, Jr. Just because I’m Seattle and he was there. Just everything he did was so smooth and he had so much fun. Like he always had a smile on his face and that’s one thing I’ll never forget. Since that day, I promised myself that’s what I would want to be like if I ever played and made it to the big leagues.”
What is your go-to song?
MF: “This is a tough one. I would have to say the Humpty Dance. That’s probably one of my favorite songs just because my family made fun of me because I looked like the guy, with my nose so big. So every time they see me, they play the song. It’s been ingrained in me forever. If I want to smile, I’ll listen.”
How do you pass the time on road trips?
MF: “Can I actually say this? So I listen to music and lately I’ve been reading Fifty Shades of Grey. It helps me pass the time (and no he didn’t get it from teammate Lane Adams). And talking to my friends and family.”
Any big plans for the offseason?
MF: “Man. Okay today, literally Lane [Adams] literally’s like ‘Hey so your grandkids are coming today right?’ Basically saying I’m old. So I’m probably going to go home and just rest. Just ice and do whatever old people do (laughs). For the most part, I’m gonna go home, enjoy my time, train, get ready for spring training, and just let everything happen the way it’s supposed to.”
Any winter ball plans?
MF: “If it comes up, I’m definitely going to think about it because that’s definitely a good experience. And help me get some more at-bats and see some pitches. So if it comes up, I’m definitely up for it.”
Last question: Any regrets on your decision to give baseball another try?
MF: “None. At all. This has been the best time I’ve ever had in a while. Definitely, there’s no regrets.”
*Fields and his Blue Rocks teammates’ season continues on Wednesday night at home as they begin their quest for the Blue Rocks’ first Carolina League title since 1999 (if it ever stops raining).