March 22, 2017
By Brad Muller | More Features
There’s something about a coach’s kid. Whether it’s because they’ve been around the game their whole life, or if it’s because they feel like they have something to prove, sons of coaches often have that “do what it takes” mentality that can lead to success. South Carolina junior first baseman Matt Williams had his father, Steve, coach him as a youngster and was also his high school coach.
“He coached me in football and baseball,” Williams said. “He’s been coaching for at least 30 years. It was always tough to play for him because he’s my dad. I felt he was always a little harder on me than everyone else. The biggest thing he taught me was to overcome adversity. This is a game of failure. You’re always going to fail. You just have to learn to deal with it and move on. You have to look for the next pitch or the next at bat.”
Part of that adversity was that Williams was not heavily recruited by many large schools to play baseball, but he did have a few other offers. Still, he chose to come to South Carolina as a preferred walk-on.
“I just felt like I came in with a chip on my shoulder and tried to prove people wrong,” Williams said. “I wasn’t highly recruited out of high school, but I don’t think about it too much. There are lots of guys like that who make it. Coach Holbrook tells us all the time about guys like Scott Wingo, who wasn’t highly recruited, and he was the College World Series MVP. You just have to keep working hard.
“My dad went here, and I knew some of the guys in my class who were committed here. I knew I could play with those guys. I knew some schools would overlook me, and I just tried to work hard and do what I needed to do to get on the field. It took a couple of years, but I was patient. Coming to a program like this, you play against the top competition, and that’s what I wanted to do.”
He brings steady leadership...I love his calming influence on the team.
Williams is leading the Gamecocks in hitting so far this season, but his path to success came from a lot of hard work and patience. After only nine at bats during his freshman year, Williams played in 18 games last year, and hit .240 with a pair of solo home runs. A shortstop and pitcher in high school, he was willing to change positions and do whatever it takes to earn a spot in the lineup, and it soon began to click.
“When I came in, the coaches told me I was probably going to be a second or third baseman,” Williams said. “I just wanted to be on the field. I had never played either corner spot. Last year, I started a couple of games at first base, and I came in this year knowing I would have a shot to win the position there. I just tried to focus on defense. The ball comes off the bat a little differently there. You just have to be ready every pitch.
“I started swinging the bat well in b-p (batting practice), and (head) Coach (Chad) Holbrook noticed that. He told me that he was going to get me some cracks last year. He didn’t say where or when, so I just tried to stay patient and when I got the opportunity, I tried to make the most of it.”
“Matt Williams has been terrific,” Holbrook said. “He plays really well at first base. He brings steady leadership. He has really won the opportunity to get his fair amount of chances at first base or DH, or wherever. I love his calming influence on the team. I love the way he plays defense. He’ll have a knack for coming up with big hits because of his mentality and the confidence he has in himself.”
Williams acknowledged that not playing a lot his first two years was tough, but he never stopped trying to learn.
“I’ve been trying to work hard in the weight room and worked on things when I wasn’t in the lineup,” Williams said. “I was trying to learn something each day and try to take something away from the older guys when they were here. (Assistant) Coach 'Busch' (Brian Buscher) has taught me a lot of things that I would have never learned if I went anywhere else. 'Busch' was a big leaguer, so I learned a lot from him. I learned a lot from the older players like Kyle Martin and guys like that. I’ve watched their approach at the plate and I just tried to take something away each time I saw them hit.
“I love the coaches. I love the players. I love the camaraderie we have as a group. We have a really good group of guys who are very close. That can go a long way.”
Williams said he sometimes put more pressure on himself while in high school, but now he is simply enjoying himself, and so is his father.
“He always comes to the games and just sits back,” Williams said. “He keeps a (score) book in the stands.”
After working several camps for kids over the summer, Williams has given some thought about getting into coaching whenever his playing days are done.
“I love teaching kids the right way to play the game,” Williams said.
Despite sometimes being called “little Julio” growing up, as an homage to his father being called “Julio” in some circles, Williams doesn’t have a flashy nickname normally awarded to impact players. Assistant coach Brian Buscher began calling Williams “Stitches” after he sliced his leg open while slamming into the wall when chasing a foul ball earlier this year and had to receive several stitches. Williams would not miss a game.
“I was going to play regardless,” Williams deadpanned. “Wrap it up. Put some ice on it.”
There’s something about a coach’s kid.
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