CLASS: Out of the shadows.
“He loves the game, his dedication is there. He is a good people relations person, which a lot of these pitchers need.” — SAC Baseball Head Coach Don Sneddon.
Coach Matz has become the undisputed king of pitching mentors at the college level:
One of the more important contributors to the Dons success lurks in the shadows. He is unknown to those who don’t journey past the tennis courts to watch a ballgame on Don Sneddon Field. If you know his name, it’s probably because you call him coach.
“I’m convinced that anybody who decides to be that guy and wants to be a pitcher likes to be the center of attention. It’s a different personality,” Pitching Coach Tim Matz said.
“It’s that guy who wants to be center stage, wants to have the ball in his hand, wants to control the tempo of the game and feels like he can.”
His work is similar to that of a lion tamer. His job is to learn the personality nuances of 15 different males and channel the best performance out of their throwing arms.
“The more time you’re willing to spend in understanding what is inside their head, the better results you’re going to get out of their arm,” Matz said. “That really is the magic of coaching. It is a psychology job.”
His record of success speaks for itself. Every year since 2007, Matz’s first season as a Dons coach, the Orange Empire Conference Pitcher of the Year has been a member of the SAC pitching staff.
“I’d love to take all the credit for that but I won’t. We are consistent with our philosophy and with teaching command of the strike zone. If you’re consistent enough, the guys will buy into it,” Matz said. “They can look at your history and the history of the club and they can see that there is something to build on. The real magic in coaching is making these guys care.”
Matz is in his sixth season coaching alongside Head Coach Don Sneddon. The two were college teammates at Cerritos College and Cal State Fullerton, a connection Matz used to his advantage during an inquiry for a coaching position.
“He is a good people relations person, which a lot of these pitchers need,” Sneddon said.
“He has been a mentor for them from the beginning, in life and on the field. He is a player’s coach. They enjoy his expertise and knowledge.”
As a former pitcher, Matz knows the demeanor necessary to succeed on the mound.
“I’m one of the guys who feels you have to have done it before,” Matz said. “All the years I pitched I developed an understanding of not just the mechanics but the mental part of it too. And I felt that I could pass some of that on to some of these guys at this age.”
Matz makes the effort to relate with his pitchers by joining the staff for off the field functions, including bonding over dinner.
“He took us out to eat and everything was on him,” freshman righty Ryan Chapman said. “We got to know him better off the field and at the same time he got to know us off-the-field. I think that goes a long way with him adapting to a player-by-player mentality.”
While routine is key, Matz personalizes each pitcher’s program according to their body type.
“You need to embrace the fact that they are all individuals,” Matz said. “It is a trial and error thing. Let them be their own guy within your structure.”
Details are important to Matz. During games he is constantly thumbing through scouting reports of opposing hitters, picking the pitch to best fit the situation.
“I call the pitches for our pitchers but I give them the final decision,” Matz said. “Nobody knows what feels better in the hand than the guy standing on the mound.”
In a recent game against Fullerton College, the opposing reliever balked home the game-tying run. Matz and lefty starter Bryan Clough slapped fives, commenting back and forth on how the ground keeping of the mound led to the reliever’s untimely balk.
“All the players really love him, not just the pitchers,” Clough said.
“Pitchers and position players alike. He is an easy guy to connect to.”
A deep well of knowledge for the mental and mechanical parts of the game is just as important as connecting with the players.
“Our fundamental philosophy is to challenge hitters. There is no defense against a walk,” Matz said. “We want to get the ball in play with one of the first three pitches and let our defense do their job.”
Under Matz’s tutelage Clough developed four serviceable pitches.
“I throw a two-seam fastball and a slider now,” Clough said. “I never threw either one before.”
Other Dons’ Baseball stories for spring 2012:
The Undertaker and The Clough Factor
Baseball: Scouting report.
Rising phenom: Andy Peterson
Athletic profile: Gary Apelian
Scouting report: Pitching
Diamond Kings of Santa Ana
Other Dons’ Baseball games coverage for Spring 2012:
Game coverage 4/2/2012: Wilson throws 3rd complete game in Dons victory
Game coverage 3/27/2012: Dons escape Hornets’ nest
Game coverage 3/14/2012: Dons overpower Gauchos
Game coverage 3/6/2012: Pirates sink Dons
Game coverage 3/3/2012: Dons sting Hornets
Game coverage 3/1/2012: Tigers pounce early in conference opener
Game coverage 2/25/2012: Seven pitchers combine on three-hitter for Dons’ win
Game coverage 2/24/2012: Dons beat Huskies to mush
Game coverage 2/23/2012: Dons avenge loss in hit parade
Game coverage 2/16/2012: Dons capitalize on Falcon errors
Game coverage 2/11/2012: Doubles allow Dons to tie up Brahmas