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Former big leaguer loves to teach

By: Matt Long Telegraph Sports Editor
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From the time he started swinging a bat as a young boy, baseball is all Matt Walbeck wanted to do. After playing parts of 11 seasons in the big leagues and spending eight seasons as a coach, Walbeck is helping players improve their games, as they chase their dreams, whether it’s earning a starting spot on their high school team, playing at the collegiate level or embarking on a professional career. “I had a good bit of success as a manager and a coach, but in the end I couldn’t find a right fit anywhere so I decided to make a career change and do what I love and that’s teach baseball,” said Walbeck, who lives in Fair Oaks with his wife, Stephenie and three kids. Walbeck teaches and trains players exclusively at the Folsom Sports Complex. Walbeck gives both group and individual lessons on areas of the game including hitting, bunting, throwing, catching, fielding, pitching, base running, warm-ups, teamwork and sportsmanship. Max Macke, an 8-year-old third grader at St. Mel’s Catholic School in Fair Oaks is currently one of Walbeck’s clients. He and his dad, Mike, were at the Folsom Sports Complex last week for a hitting lesson. “It’s unbelievable how good he is with the kids,” Mike Macke said. “He has a way of explaining very complicated things to kids easily.” Walbeck, 42, graduated from Sac High in 1987 and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs and went off to play in the minor leagues before making his major league debut with the Cubs at Wrigley Field on April 7, 1993. His first major league hit in the bottom of the ninth inning sent the game into extra innings, before the Atlanta Braves won it in the tenth, 5-4. “My first hit was a swinging bunt down the third base line off Kent Mercker, but Harry Caray said that I would being telling my kids that it was a line drive to center field,” Walbeck said. “It was pretty cool to make my debut, have my first hit and a short while later my first career home run at Wrigley Field.” The highlight of Walbeck’s major league career was catching Scott Erickson’s no-hitter against the Milwaukee Brewers on April 27, 1994, in the Metrodome while playing for the Minnesota Twins. “That was amazing,” Walbeck said. “I had never caught one before at any level. He (Scott) just had a perfect day. He was a sinker/slider pitcher and just kept everything down and threw a heavy ball.” After playing parts of 11 seasons in the big leagues, Walbeck’s playing career came to an end on September 28, 2003, the final day of the season playing on statistically one of the worst teams of all time, the Detroit Tigers, who lost 119 games that season. “Our manager Alan Trammell and general manager Dave Dombrowski sat me down before the game and told me that they’re not interested in me as a player for next season, but they sure liked me as a coach in the organization,” Walbeck said. “I figured if a team that just lost 119 games didn’t want me then it was time for a career change and I jumped right into coaching. That was a brutal season.” Walbeck had great success in eight years of coaching from 2004 to 2011, leading his teams to three league championships and earning four Manager of the Year titles, including being named Baseball America’s 2007 Minor League Manager of the Year, an award that encompasses all minor league managers. He spent one year as third base coach for the Texas Rangers in 2008 before returning to the minor leagues to manager until last season. Anyone interested in learning from Walbeck can visit his website at walbeckbaseball.com. Baseball lessons From: Former MLB catcher Matt Walbeck Where: Folsom Sports Complex Info: Walbeckbaseball.com