Taylor made: Chattanooga State pitcher takes an unusual route in baseball career
Most young players don’t handle pressure situations well.
Sunday during an elimination game in the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series at Suplizio Field, Chattanooga (Tenn.) State Community College pitcher Matt Taylor found himself holding a 10-6 lead in the bottom of the eighth inning against State College of Florida.
Good thing for the Tigers, Taylor isn’t young.
The 25-year-old sophomore left hander struck out the first two batters, then loaded the bases. With BJ Zimmerman at the plate, Taylor worked the Manatees’ batter to a full count.
Needing one more strike, Taylor dug down and remembered the road he traveled to get to Grand Junction.
Taylor struck out Zimmerman, which helped the Tigers stay alive in the tournament with a 10-9 win over the Manatees.
“I didn’t have the velocity I usually have, but came in and did my job fairly well,” Taylor said. “(My teammates) never say die. We’ve been in some tough games and tough situations in the district and conference tournaments, but they’ve never quit and I can’t thank them enough for that.”
Taylor is grateful for his teammates’ performance, because he’s living out his dream — even if it’s a few years later than planned.
In 2002, Taylor was drafted out of Antioch (Tenn.) High School in the 40th round by the Detroit Tigers, but passed up going pro to attend Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tenn.
Taylor was there for a year and a half, but failed out of school.
“I didn’t focus on my grades, so I wasn’t invited back,” Taylor said. “I’ve been working ever since.”
Taylor moved to Nashville and said he worked as a parking valet for three years, then spent a few years working for Valvoline.
After leaving Austin Peay, Taylor hadn’t touched a baseball. But through heartbreak, Taylor was driven to get back on the field again.
“It’s kind of a sad story. My fianc&233;e and I split up, and I wanted to get out of that town,” Taylor said. “I needed something good in my life to push toward, so that was a deciding factor.”
Taylor moved back to the Chattanooga area to live with his parents so he could go back to school and try to play baseball again. Taylor contacted Chattanooga State coach Greg Dennis.
Being an advantageous coach, Dennis decided to give the pitching prospect a light workout.
“I threw with him on flat ground and it went really well. I told Robert Long, our pitching coach, ‘I don’t know what this guy’s going to look like off the bump, but he’s got a chance to be pretty good,’ ” Dennis said. “Robert worked him out and called me a week later and said he’s got a chance to be real good.”
When Taylor got back onto the field for the Tigers in the fall, it was the culmination of a long journey.
“I’ve often described it to people, and I say it was the best day I had in six years,” Taylor said. “I was almost in tears because it was so good to be back on a baseball field.”
Taylor was grateful to be back on the field, but was quickly reminded he wasn’t quite as spry as he used to be. Taylor’s teammates were now 18 and 19 year olds who were in middle school when Taylor graduated high school.
“You could tell he’d been out of it for a while. He was trying to keep up with the guys right out of high school,” said Chattanooga sophomore pitcher Brandon Elrod, with a grin. “But it was awesome to see that he had the willpower to get his arm in shape like that after five years.”
Taylor was able to hold his own on the mound, going 5-2 for the Tigers in 43 innings — with 56 strikeouts.
‘Pops,’ as Taylor is called by his teammates, said the thing that changed for him the most was his mound approach.
“I had some physical talent coming out of high school, but I was low on the mental talent,” Taylor said. “But now the mental side has skyrocketed and the physical side is coming back.”
Taylor’s maturity has come in handy as he’s been a leader for the other pitchers. Dennis said Taylor’s best advice is to take advantage of every opportunity.
“He’s done a really good job of getting these guys to understand to take it all in and not expect it to always be this way,” Dennis said. “He gives them the attitude of you better enjoy this while you have it, because when it’s not there, it’s not as much fun.”
As for the future, Taylor doesn’t plan on giving up baseball again after only one year. He said he’s looking to continue his education and baseball career, and has been in the most contact with Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn.
“He’s enjoyed a great year and hopefully he gets another chance to play another couple of years,” Dennis said. “It’s been a journey for him, and he’s not all the way back yet.”