You were quite the athlete growing up as you earned All-State honors in baseball and football and were a rather good tennis player too. What did you love about baseball that made you select that as the sport to continue playing?
Matt LeCroy: I really loved football with the excitement of playing on Fridays and going to all of the Clemson games as a fan. I just decided that baseball would be the avenue for me. I didn’t think that I’d be big enough to play football at a high level and it just so happened that baseball got the attention and I could play in college and hopefully have a chance to play in pro ball. It just worked out that baseball was the sport I ended up playing.
While attending Clemson you majored in elementary education, does coaching satisfy that teaching bug in you?
ML: My family was involved with education other than my dad who was in the textile industry. My brother is a teacher and a coach, my sister also coached, and my mother is a teacher’s aide. So, education was kind of in my blood early. With coaching I knew I wanted to stay involved with sports in some capacity and then when I got to pro ball and later on in my career I realized that I’d like to stay in it. I had enough managers tell me I needed to get into it and stay in it once I retire as a player. It just happened to work out that way.
Talk about that transition in calling it quits as a player and knowing your time is up to coaching and managing.
ML: As I got older I knew with my body breaking down it was time for me to stop playing. I had Frank (Robinson) and Gardy (Ron Gardenhire) as managers and they pushed me to get into coaching. I started paying attention a little bit more to the coaching part of it at the end when I wasn’t playing and watching how they ran things. Once my playing career was done and I was offered a job I figured it was God telling me I needed to do it because the opportunity came just a couple of days after I quit playing. I’m just excited for the opportunity to stay in baseball. It’s been an awesome run for me. I’ve enjoyed it, I have great bosses, and everything has gone so well. It’s just been the right thing for me to do.
You mentioned Gardy…what lessons did you take from him and keep as part of your managerial style?
ML: One of the biggest things is he wanted everybody to be ready to play when the opportunity came. He uses his bench so well. He’s real personable with his players, has an open-door policy, is a family guy, and is just a great person. He’s stern on the fundamentals, being on-time, and being a professional. But he also just lets you play the game. The most important thing that I learned from Gardy was that he used all 25 of his players in order for us to win a championship and everyone felt like they had a big part in it. That’s the one part I’d like to take from him. He uses everybody and you need everybody to win a championship and that’s the biggest thing he expressed to me.
You went from a first round pick of the Twins to a self-described grinder. What kind of expectations were there being a first-rounder?
ML: Being a first-round pick you obviously have expectations and the added pressure of making it to the big leagues, but I never felt that because Minnesota treated me just like everyone else. There was no preferential treatment because I was a first-round pick. I did get the majority of playing time, but I also deserved that because of how well I was playing. I was an offense-minded guy, so on the defensive side they told me from the beginning that if I could catch I would make it to the big leagues a lot quicker. Because of that I had to do extra work every day. Spring training was a grind. During the season in the minor leagues was a work day every day and then playing the games at night. It was all about getting to catch. They just treated me like another guy and I had to put the work in. That’s what pro ball is all about. You have to do your own thing and be ready and prepared to play and I did it every game. And I was fortunate enough to make it up fairly quickly being a college guy. Minnesota gave me the opportunity when they drafted me and they taught me a lot about the game of baseball and gave me the chance to play on some really good teams. I enjoyed every bit of it.
In 1996, you were on the Team USA baseball team that represented our country at the Olympics in Atlanta and took home the bronze medal. What was that whole experience like for you?
ML: That’s one of my most memorable moments as an amateur. Getting to play in front of 55,000 people in Atlanta and play close to home (only about an hour and 45 minutes away from South Carolina), it was just an awesome experience for the teammates and friendships I have from that summer while playing for our country. You really can’t describe that feeling when you go on the field and everybody is chanting U-S-A and you’re playing for something pretty special. That was an awesome time and experience that helped me become a big leaguer too with the pressure of having to compete at a high level in a big stadium like that. It was just an awesome feeling.
You and your wife recently had twins bringing your number of children to five. Did you always want a big family growing up or is that something you and you wife have grown into?
ML: When we got married, we joked that we wanted a big family. Once we started raising the three we had, we started changing our tone a little but apparently the Good Lord had other plans and she got pregnant with twins. Deep down I think we really did want a bigger family, probably just not at the age we are but we are going to love every minute of it. It’s just going to be wild, crazy times at my house for the next 15-20 years.
I have to ask about your affection for banana and mayo sandwiches.
ML: People don’t realize when you grow up in the South usually everything is fried but every now and then people will come up with some different kind of sandwich. I remember my grandmother making me a banana and mayo sandwich. It’s awesome. A lot of people won’t even try it because they think it’s gross but once you try it, you’ll really, really like it. But my wife doesn’t eat it either, so it just might be me who likes it. It’s quite the treat.
Also big in the South is something I used to eat before the games a lot…potted meat. It’s like a Spam-type that comes in small cans and you eat with saltine crackers. It’s got probably every part of the meat and body that you can possibly put in this little can. I like it. I still eat it now with crackers and people think it’s gross. One Spring Training I took a bunch of potted meat cans and they put new labels on for it Eddie Guardado that called it roadkill. We gave it out during Spring Training and it was pretty neat because he really thought he was eating some roadkill.
This article was originally found in issue #8 of the Senators’ program and was reprinted with the permission of the Harrisburg Senators