One swing paved way for former Giants, Carson City slugger Matt Williams
With one swing of the bat, Matt Williams convinced a scout that he was ready for the Big Leagues.
and#8220;I was at Moana Stadium watching UNLV and UNR play. Matt made some good plays,and#8221; said Chris Healy, a longtime umpire in Northern Nevada. and#8220;He (Al Rosen, a Giants scout and all-star 3rd baseman at Cleveland) watched him for two at-bats and in the field for four or five innings. He watched him make this play and Rosen said and#8216;I’ve seen enough. Can anyone give me a ride to the airport?’ I gave him a ride to the airport.and#8221;
It was that year, 1986, that Williams solidified his baseball career in Nevada, which first begun while playing for Ron McNutt’s Carson Senators for three seasons (1981-1983). Williams also played for McNutt’s traveling team, the Carson Capitols, in the summer before accepting a scholarship from Fred Dallimore at UNLV.
and#8220;He was an outstanding athlete first of all and not just on the field,and#8221; McNutt said. and#8220;It was just his mannerism and how he went about things. He’s a pretty classy guy. On the baseball field, you could just see the talent he had and he would go beyond high school with that talent.and#8221;
The Giants were one of the worst teams in baseball, but 23 years ago, Rosen and Roger Craig (Giants manager from 1985-1992) took a chance and ended up saving the team by the Bay. The Giants drafted first baseman Will Clark as the second pick of the first round in 1985, followed by Williams as the third pick in the first round the next year.
and#8220;They (Craig and Rosen) saved them. We probably wouldn’t have a team now,and#8221; Healy recalled.
As the region’s commissioner for baseball, Healy has seen his share of extreme talent in the area. When Williams played, Healy just started umpiring varsity games and also worked for one of the TV stations.
Healy said Williams wasn’t the top prospect coming out of high school at the time. Along with the Carson native, Rob Ritchie (Hug High) and John Savage (Reno High) lit up Northern Nevada baseball.
and#8220;That was an unbelievable time in high school baseball, a pivotal time,and#8221; Healy said. and#8220;The same year Matt graduated from high school, he was on everyone’s radar, but he was an afterthought as far as the scouts were concerned. Matt was not the number one guy in any sense. He was a great player even then.and#8221;
What Williams did for the Senators, besides playing football and basketball, was minor compared to the summer’s traveling team. Coaches were trying to figure out what position suited Williams the best. They tried him at third, before UNLV put him at short stop, first and even catcher.
and#8220;They had a real boom in talent. A lot of the guys go on to play serious college ball and some of them make it to the Big Leagues,and#8221; Healy said. and#8220;At the time, they were trying to figure out if Matt was a third baseman. When he got to college, they wanted to move him to first base and catcher because he was not a good third baseman. I thought and#8216;wow’ he can go to his left pretty well.and#8221;
USC and Arizona State wanted Williams on their squad, but Dallimore said the magic phrase to move the slugger to Las Vegas.
The UNLV coach, unlike the rest of the schools, told Williams that not only would he get serious playing time, but he would start as a freshman. USC and ASU said the sophomore stage would be the earliest Williams would play.
and#8220;I think Matty had some chances to go to a lot of places,and#8221; McNutt said. and#8220;Fred gave him instant playing time as a freshman. Some of those other big-name places would have him redshirt. By staying in-state and going to Las Vegas, it allowed to him to play right away and it benefited him.and#8221;
In three seasons with UNLV, Williams hit 58 home runs, with 217 RBI and a career batting average of .327. During his third and final year, Williams hit .351, with 25 home runs and drove in 89 RBI in 57 games.
Williams, as his professional career indicated, was a third baseman. But Dallimore experimented with him at short stop and in the long run, it helped him become better at the left corner.
and#8220;Fred Dallimore was the key to Matt becoming what he was. Matt went to UNLV and took off,and#8221; Healy said.
But it was his bat that stuck out the most. When UNLV traveled to play Nevada in 1986 at Moana Stadium, now a run-down arena to the semi-pro Reno Astros, Williams recalled that his first at-bat wasn’t pretty but made sure not to let it happen a second time.
and#8220;The next at-bat I hit one off the air conditioning unit across the street. He (Rosen) got off his set and made up his mind,and#8221; said Williams, an All-American who was inducted into the UNLV Hall of Fame in 1997, along with the retiring of his jersey, No. 15.
McNutt’s credentials speak for himself.
He was the Northern Nevada Coach of the Year 11 times, state Coach of the Year five times and a district Coach of the Year three times. McNutt was inducted into the Carson and Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association halls of fame this decade, and recently got back into coaching when he took the head job at Galena last spring. McNutt, for which Carson’s baseball field is named after, won 697 games and#8211; the most in state history and#8211; during his 29 seasons with the Senators.
But Williams remembers his former coach for his influence.
and#8220;Coach McNutt was not necessarily the most technical coach, but when he motivated, he got the best out of his players and an opportunity to get seen,and#8221; Williams said of his former coach. and#8220;It’s invaluable. We got a chance to be seen by college and pro scouts.and#8221;
He’s also just as well known as being the coach of the Carson Capitols, a team he led to well over 1,000 wins. McNutt led Carson to two state titles in 1979 and 1992 and had numerous players from his Capitol and Senator teams play at the professional level.
“For years, scouts didn’t like to come over in March and April and were busy in California, and they thought to catch him in May,and#8221; McNutt said. and#8220;There’s a lot of talent in this area. It just helps when you have a player like that. It filters down to the other kids and they work a little bit harder.”
One of Williams’ best experiences with McNutt came in his sophomore season, when the coach wanted him to play just the field.
and#8220;I didn’t have an opportunity to hit. I was DH (designated hitter)’d for,and#8221; Williams said. and#8220;I worked hard that summer on my hitting. I’ve always told Coach McNutt that it’s because of him that I succeeded. I went from being DH’d for to never being DH’d again.and#8221;
It wasn’t until the third team when Williams received baseball’s crown jewel.
After spending 10 years with the Giants and one with the Indians, Williams found himself making history with the Diamondbacks as they became the fastest team to win a World Series. Even more astonishing was that Arizona won the Series in the final game against the heavily favored Yankees.
Williams, who made World Series appearances with the Giants (1989) and Indians (1998), played 17 total seasons in the Bigs, batting .268 and hitting 378 home runs and driving in 1,218 runs. Williams was voted an All-Star five times, won the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards four times, and was one spot shy of winning the National League MVP award in 1994. He finished with a .964 fielding percentage playing at third, short and first. In 10 postseason games, Williams averaged .247 at the plate and drove in 28 runs behind six homers. Williams, who retired after 60 games in 2002 because of injuries, now works in the Diamondbacks front office and occasionally broadcasts.
and#8220;I will always bleed black and orange. That will never go away,and#8221; said Williams, who, with another player, was traded to Cleveland in 1997 for Jeff Kent, Jose Vizcaino and Julian Taverez.
With his three teams, Williams said his favorite target to throw to was Mark Grace, with the Diamondbacks. Williams began his career throwing to Clark at first and then Jim Thome with the Indians.
But it was Williams’ place in the lineup that drew bigger names, with some contribution to the recent steroid news plaguing the MLB.
His favorite person to play with and watch? Barry Bonds.
and#8220;Barry made me rich,and#8221; Williams chuckled because of the frequent intentional passes.
Hardest working player he’s known? Manny Ramirez.
and#8220;Manny was unquestionably the hardest worker I’ve know,and#8221; said Williams, whose one season with Cleveland was also with Ramirez, now a Dodger. and#8220;One of the reasons Manny became the hitter he is now is that he worked on it every single day.and#8221;
Williams started his baseball career as the Carson Crusher when he tormented Northern Nevada pitching. But because of influential mentors, Williams went from the state’s silver star to its golden.