From playing local Little League to joining Team USA and even a seven-year Major League career, baseball has taken Winchester’s Matt Ginter all over the world.
But he still calls Clark County his home.
After graduating from George Rogers Clark High School in 1996, Ginter was picked in the 17th round of the MLB draft by the New York Yankees.
He opted to play at Mississippi State instead, helping the Bulldogs to two College World Series appearances.
He was a first-round pick in the MLB draft in 1999, going to the Chicago White Sox.
Ginter became the GRC baseball coach in 2012, leading the Cardinals to a region championship, four district titles and an overall 116-77 record.
The school and Ginter decided to part ways this summer and, as he enters a new era in his life, Ginter reflects on a career which started small right here at home.
WL: What was it like growing up and playing sports in Clark County?
MG: I played three sports — baseball, football and basketball — all the way into my sophomore year, when I stopped playing football. Even in high school, I lettered in all three varsity sports as a freshman. I played for the Cowboys in Civitan football. For the Red Sox in baseball and Celtics in Civitan basketball. And, you know, we didn’t think of anything, we just rolled from one sport to the next sport.
Once I got into high school, and started getting a lot more letters from baseball, it was probably time to hang up the helmet and pads. I decided my fingers and shoulders and stuff are probably more important in baseball than they would be in football. I had to make that decision to quit football and stay with baseball.
I kept playing basketball. I liked basketball. Not going to say I was very good at it, but I liked to run up and down the court. And it kept me in shape for baseball.
It was great times. We had a lot of great Little League battles at Lykins Park. It was just a great time to grow up.
I show my son pictures of me in T-ball wearing a T-shirt and jeans. That was our uniform. We had a trucker hat on and a pair of blue jeans and we played T-Ball in that. Nowadays, even at 3 or 4, you’ve got baseball pants.
It was a great time. Most of my friends played all three sports and competed against each other until we got together in middle school.
WL: When did you know you would pursue athletics as a career?
MG: That was my plan for a long time. Of course, that’s everybody’s plan.
I started playing with the Dixie Stars in Lexington and started competing with the kids in Lexington. One of my biggest breaks, I think, was when I played in the Connie Mack World Series and had a big game. I think it was against East Cobb, and I struck out 14 or 15 kids in a game. After that, that kinda started … when you do that to a program of the caliber of East Cobb back then, that puts your name on the map.
We went down to Mississippi State, down to LSU, we took 15-passenger vans throughout the southeast and put ourselves in front of those coaches. We may have been 16 and we played in front of (Mississippi State) coach (Ron) Polk. That game he wasn’t going to turn the lights on. He said it’s too expensive.
I was throwing in the mid- to upper-80s and we had a catcher firing throws to second base. A kid hit their scoreboard. All the sudden, the lights come on and he said, “Keep playing. We want more to watch.”
Two years later, Coach Polk signs me and Josh Pugh to come down to Mississippi State and play. Another kid on our team went to LSU. Another kid went to Western and another went to Louisville. I think we had four kids drafted. That was the talent we had and we were competing against East Cobb, Bayside Yankees, Midland Indians. You’re playing those teams and you’re starting to basically control a game or take over a game against those kinds of programs, your name gets out there pretty fast.
WL: Were there any lesser-known stops in your baseball travels?
MG: I lived in Anchorage, Alaska, my freshman year of college for about a month and a half playing for the Anchorage Bucs.
We played in Anchorage, Fairbanks, down in Kenai. We played some spots in Alaska, played in Vancouver, and the end of the summer we flew to Hawaii to play Hawaii teams for 10 days. So I spent my whole summer in Alaska and Hawaii.
After college there are two places that people go. They send you to Alaska then Cape Cod for the top prospects, and I went to Alaska and lived with a host family there and basically did whatever we wanted. We walked on glaciers. We salmon fished. First taste of sushi — basically catching a salmon and eating it right out of the streams.
Got to meet a lot of guys. A lot of West Coast players go there. And a guy on my team, Geoff Geary, I played with him all the way through into pro ball and the big leagues. We pitched against each other. So the guys I was seeing in these team showcases, high school to early college, we followed each other our whole careers.
WL: Did you experience any culture shock?
MG: Anchorage was a little different. I would say baseball players, besides the West Coast guys, are baseball players.
Once you get into pro ball, you can basically walk into any clubhouse and talk to somebody.
It kinda goes with how the game works. You gotta be able to deal with all kinds of different people.
Going to Mississippi State was no different than staying here. They hunted and fished. They cooked out in the outfield.
There was only about 14,000 people in Starkville then. It was pretty small and the school was just as big as the town was. That wasn’t a big deal.
When I played with the USA team, a bunch of kids from all over the country came together and played. We went to Nicaragua. That was a shock. I had never drank a Coke out of a bag. I didn’t know there was such a thing.
They would buy a Coke, pour it in a bag and keep the bottle so they could turn it in. So they would hand you a bag with a straw so you could drink it. It was very different. Nicaragua was probably one of the wildest places I’ve played.
We went to Rome and Sicily. There was no fast food. We were in Sicily and you ate what they had. I laugh about it still, the first time we were in Sicily and what I thought was chicken Parmesan was eggplant. And I was telling my parents, “This is the worst chicken I’ve ever had.” Well, I had never had eggplant.
Some of the stuff there was very different. Everything was locally-grown or caught. There could be a swordfish right there on the edge of the street for sale. They just brought it right off the boat.
I’ve been a lot of places. Baseball has taken me basically around the world from Hawaii to Sicily, from five hours ahead to eight hours behind, to all these places in the world. And it was all because of baseball. I got to experience a lot of it.
There are some shocks, but you learn to adapt.
WL: Did you ever get home sick?
MG: Come September, or those last dog days of the season, it starts getting cooler and I start thinking about being in a deer stand. Those fall days and you roll down the window driving, once I get past the castle (in Versailles), I know I’m getting close to home.
You roll down the window and start smelling the country air and the cool wind. It’s always a vivid memory, coming home from Mississippi State, coming home from pro ball. Just seems like, no matter where I’ve gone, once you get to those country roads, you’re ready to be home.
New York and Chicago are great places. I don’t want to live there. This is where I want to live.
WL: Is there a memory that stands out or a favorite story you like to share?
MG: I was a big Roger Clemens fan when I played for the Little League Red Sox. Then I ended up facing Roger Clemens on my first career start (with the Mets).
It was Sunday Night Baseball. I broke up his no-hitter in the third inning. I got my first hit off Roger Clemens in my first career at-bat. It was the day before my dad’s birthday. I gave him the ball and I kept the bat.
In that game, in the first inning, I knock Lance Berkman down. I put him on his backside. I get out of the inning and get back to the dugout and Tom Glavine and Al Leiter come over and sit next to me. They said, “You know you have to hit, right?”
I said, “Yeah.” They said, “You know you knocked Berkman down, right?”
I said, “Yeah.” They said, “You know you’re facing Clemens, correct?”
I looked at them and they said, “Good luck,” and walked off.
So for the next two innings, I was thinking, “No way he’s going to hit me.”
By the time I get to the plate, I think he had a perfect game going and had struck out five or six of us. He was mowing us down pretty easily.
I get up to bat and I’m looking at him and he looks Little League distance. He looks really close. If he hits me, it’s going to be bad. He’s still throwing 96 miles per hour. I feel like I’m as far out of the box as I can legally be.
I’m trying to look at the catcher and looking at Clemens. He throws the first ball up and in to me, so I tip my cap to him. “All right, my bad.”
Next pitch he throws is another ball so I’m like, “That looked like a strike.” Next pitch was another ball.
So I went from thinking about getting a hit to thinking I’m going to walk and get on base. But he throws a strike and now my thought process changes again to trying to get a hit now.
Next pitch he throws, I think I pull it. I look and it shoots in between first and second, a hard three-hopper through the infield, and I run to first and get a single. They threw the ball out. But I broke up his no-hitter.
We ended up going toe-to-toe for six innings and I came out (of the game with us) losing 2-1 and Mike Piazza hits a solo home run with two outs in the ninth off Doctavio Dotel (to tie it) and I think the game ended up going 13 innings.
I spit the hook and Clemens didn’t get the win, it was basically a wash and I got to face a guy that I had looked up to since I was pitching for the Red Sox in Little League.
I watched Frank Thomas in college in the home run derby. He was a teammate. I got pictures of me and Mike Piazza when we were on the USA Team before we flew to Rome. Six years later, Mike Piazza is my catcher in the same stadium. It’s weird when you go back and look at some of the rosters.
Willie Bloomquist, we played against each other when we were seniors in high school, and here we are playing against each other in the big leagues. It’s funny how a roster follows you. You see a lot of the same kids over and over.
A great college experience I had was when I was a freshman, a true freshman. We’re playing Washington for a chance to go to the College World Series. It’s the championship game for them, if we lose we go home. Pitching coach comes to me and says, “We need 12 to 15 outs. If you can get us 12 to 15 outs, we will win and it will give first-rounder Eric Dubose another day so he can pitch and we’ll go to the World Series.”
So, I went out there and ended up going 4 and two-thirds, I got 14 outs. And Ron Polk walks up to the top step of the dugout to come get me.
There was about 11,000 people there for a Mississippi State game. As soon as coach Polk got to the top of the step, the whole stadium started giving me a standing ovation. These are baseball people, they know what a true freshman has just done. We’re winning. I got the 12 to 15 outs we were looking for and we can hand it over to our bullpen, which was stellar, to shut the rest of the game out. That was one of those games where you don’t ever want to come off the mound. These people are cheering for you and going crazy because they know what has happened.
That was one of the first times, coming from Clark County, where there’s 25 moms and dads in the stands to where there’s 10,000 to 12,000 people then you go pitch in the College World Series and there’s 25,000, that was the first feelings of, “Wow, this is something you want to play in front of.”
That was probably the slowest I’ve ever walked off a field so I could enjoy the cheering of the crowd.
We went on to win the game. Eric Dubose pitches the next game. We beat Washington twice and go to the College World Series.
My whole apartment at Mississippi State, Travis Chapman and John Knott, we all three made it to the big leagues. That just doesn’t happen. There’s now 58 guys ever from Mississippi State to go pro. I think there’s been 14 first rounders in Mississippi State’s history, and I was one of those. I’m still in the Top 10 in all-time strikeouts there. The experiences I had at Mississippi State prepared me for what pro ball was going to be like.
WL: Why did you come back to Winchester when your career was finished?
MG: I never doubted that I was going to come back. I lived here. I bought a house here and came back here. My family is still here. My brothers and sisters all live within a 10-mile radius.
When we go on vacation, there’s 15 to 16 of us out there. We go on whole-family vacations still. There was not a doubt that I would come back.
Once I got done with playing, I thought coaching was going to be a part of what I wanted to do. I was approached when I came back about coaching high school. That’s something I can do.
I can pass on all these stories and this knowledge that you can’t learn from watching a video. That’s something I can share with these kids. What to be prepared for. What’s going to happen. The recruiting process. How you got to act. How’s it feel when you hit Derek Jeter (with a pitch) in Yankee Stadium and get booed by 50 million people.
I can tell you that. I’ve had that happen.
There’s some stuff that’s intangible that you can’t put a price on or you can’t read in a book.
One thing you can do is come back and try to share those experiences with younger kids and help prepare them and hopefully they can play college ball or maybe get a life lesson so later on down the road, they can look back and think, “Well, coach Ginter said this was going to happen” or “He warned me’”or “I’m glad I know this now.”
WL: What’s something you take away from your career?
MG: Baseball is a humbling sport. No matter how big-time you get, there are 0-for-4 days with four punch outs. That’s just the way it works. A Cy Young winner sometimes can’t get an ‘A’ Ball team out. I’ve seen it.
That is why there is an average. You are not defined by one game.
In the big leagues, it is 162 games, it is 500-something at-bats, it is 200 innings. You are going to have bad days.
Hopefully, your good outweighs the bad, but more than likely, it won’t.
You are probably going to be somewhere stuck in the middle. That is part of life.
There are going to be highs and lows and you have to be able to weather the storm.
Baseball is a great sport to teach you that. There will be good innings. There will be bad innings. Like I tell the kids during games, “You just weathered their storm and we’re still winning. You went through what they were going to give you. Let’s keep on going.” We talk about winning each inning. Same thing in life as in baseball. Sometimes it’s day-to-day and you can’t look forward if you can’t get today in. §