Dave Matthews Elevates His Game To Pro Ranks
It has been quite a baseball-playing journey for Dave Matthews, who has gone from Newtown High School standout to Central Connecticut State University conference champion to connecting for his grandest slam of sorts: playing professional ball with the Frontier League’s Joliet (Illinois) Slammers.
Matthews helped Central win its second straight Northeast Conference championship this past spring. The Blue Devils also won it all in 2019; the 2020 season was lost due to the pandemic. Matthews wrapped up his undergraduate studies and has completed much of his graduate work while helping the baseball team advance into the NCAA tournament. Although his education-based hardball days are done, his baseball-playing career appears far from over. Matthews is an outfielder with the independent league’s Slammers, who play about 45 minutes outside of Chicago.
The Major League Baseball draft was sliced in half due to the impact of the coronavirus, hurting his chances of being drafted last year, but Matthews connected with the Slammers — and hopes to connect with enough pitches to make a climb in the professional ranks to affiliated ball.
“It’s a completely different ballgame now. It’s the business of baseball — not just having fun,” said Matthews, who is competing with and against high-level players.
“I’m surrounded by a bunch of first-rounders and second-rounders,” Matthews said. “I’ve learned so much from the guys around me. The experience is priceless in that sense.”
Matthews had a memorable first professional hit, crushing a game-tying home run in the eighth inning of a game against the Evansville Otters.
Because of the impact of the coronavirus, the team is competing only in the midwest this summer, but would typically travel to places such as New Jersey and Washington, DC, as well as into Canada to face Quebec. There is still plenty of travel, and the team plays almost every day throughout the summer. “A lot of travel. You’re always on the go,” Matthews said. “It’s a grind.”
These MLB hopefuls put in the time with hope the dedication will pay off some day. Meanwhile, they get to play the game they love.
Matthews is a versatile player. A corner outfielder, he can hit for average and power, and also runs the bases well. In 43 games with Central this past spring, Matthews hit .293 with 14 doubles and was tied for the team high with seven home runs. He drove in 33 runs and also scored 33 runs. Matthews walked 23 times and stole a team-high 13 bases, doing so in 16 attempts. He earned Second Team All Northeast Conference accolades.
A hitter who has success close to a third of the time is considered very strong in the batter’s box. Making outs is commonplace in baseball.
“It’s a game of adversity — a game that teaches you to fail and teaches life lessons,” Matthews acknowledges.
Juggling school while playing a Division I college sport is not an easy task, but Matthews has thrived in the classroom as well. Matthews earned his undergraduate degree in business administration and is closing in on completion of earning his master’s degree in business analytics, taking courses while he continues to play ball.
Prior to transferring to Central, Matthews played for Johnson & Wales University, where he earned American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings Third-Team All-New England honors in 2017. Matthews has played for the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Keene (N.H.) Swamp Bats and Pittsfield (Mass.) Suns in the Futures League.
A 2015 Newtown High graduate, Matthews helped the Nighthawks win the South-West Conference championship his freshman year. He looks forward to coming back to Newtown to teach a clinic or possible open a batting facility some day.
Newtown High School Athletic Director Matt Memoli, the school’s former baseball coach, had Matthews on his team during his playing days with the Nighthawks. Memoli describes Matthews as one of the best hitters on those teams.
“To see him progress and grow right now has been really gratifying for me,” said Memoli, who also played baseball at Central.
Sports Editor Andy Hutchison can be reached at email@example.com.