by Niki Paton
June 27, 2006 - American Association (AA) - St. Paul Saints
Dreams of playing baseball in the big leagues don\'t come with a map. You never know what road you will take to get there or how many times you will have to change direction in an attempt to reach your destination. If you\'re willing, you might just touch the stars and achieve anything you set your mind to. It takes a mixture of time, hard work, optimism and sacrifices to realize that dream.
In 2005, the Saint Paul Saints signed right-handed pitcher Matt Hammons to the bull pen. Since, Hammons has been one of the key components to the Saints pitching arsenal and one of the reasons the Saints made it to the 2005 Northern League playoffs.
Hammons, 29-years-old, joined the then Northern League Saints in 2005 after spending nine years in professional baseball. In 2002, Hammons was selected as the Northern League Western Division All-Star Relief Pitcher and Independent Leagues All-Star Relief Pitcher. In 2005, Hammons was selected as the Independent Leagues First-Team All-Star Relief Pitcher.
Hammons professional career began in 1995 after being drafted in the 11th Round (287th overall) out of high school by the Chicago Cubs organization. Hammons professional baseball experiences have included playing for the Midwest League, Gulf Coast League, Arizona League, New York-Penn League, Florida State League, Southern League, Northern League Joliet Jackhammers, the Milwaukee Brewers organization, the Cardinal organization, the Atlantic League, Mexico and the American Association Saint Paul Saints.
"I ended up in Mexico," said Hammons. "Then I came here (Saint Paul Saints) last year after Mexico."
At the end of the 2005 season Hammons was signed by the Colorado Rockies organization. Hammons opportunities for 2006 were between the Rockies and the New York Yankees organization. Hammons signed with the Rockies but was soon released due to the amount of roster space actually available for talent in AAA.
"(There were) Too many guys, we had 41 pitchers in AAA. There was eleven spots that I found out the hard way there was really one spot available for a starter and one spot for a long man in relief. And I\'m neither." Hammons said. "I was gonna make a good pay check and there was 41 guys. There was just no room. It was just a lack of communication. I should not have signed with them, it was a bad move. I should have gone with the Yankees instead, it was a guaranteed deal. I thought it was the right move at the time but it didn\'t work out. I pitched one inning, I threw eight pitches, I got released. There was no room."
At the beginning of the 2006 inaugural AA (American Association of Independent Baseball) baseball season Hammons rejoined the Saints and has proven again that he is a key go to guy in the Saints bull pen with a current ERA of 4.15 and an opponent average of .227.
Hammons was kind enough to allow me an interview before Saturday night\'s game against the Sioux City Explorers.
Niki Paton: How do you feel about you\'re pitching this season compared to last?
Matt Hammons: I feel good. I feel strong. I feel stronger than I was last year. My forkballs (variation of a fast ball) better. I\'m rebounding better night by night. Statistically it\'s probably not as good yet but it\'s early in the season and by the end of the season it will all pan out.
Paton: How do you feel about this year\'s talent in the AA (American Association League) versus that of the Northern League in 2005?
Hammons: I think the talents better. I think the fields are worse. I think the clubhouses are worse. But the talents good. I mean there\'s a million ball players in the world so it only makes sense that; you know we are getting a lot of quality ballplayers."
Paton: Where do you hope this season takes you with your pitching? Right now, you have nine saves for the Saints.
Hammons: I want to go with the team to Japan. I hope I\'m still here by the time we go to Japan. I\'m supposed to go to Puerto Rico right after that and play all winter. I do hope to get picked up by an organization if it happens. I am aging though and I understand their concern, but I do love playing for the Saints, so you know if I play here all summer, go to Japan and go to Puerto Rico that\'s a heck of a year.
Paton: What do you feel is your best asset on the mound?
Hammons: That I remain calm and get the job done. I mean a lot is said about pitching the ninth inning but to me if I pitched in the first inning I\'d approach it the same way. I still gotta throw strikes and get batters out.
Paton: How do you keep your composure when you come up against a tough batter?
Hammons: If he\'s a tough batter I actually concentrate more because that\'s what I enjoy.
I actually let my guard down against the guys who I don\'t give any respect to, the shorter players or what not. I judge them maybe by their name or where they\'ve been and I shouldn\'t do that because I end up throwing it right down the middle and then they get these little weak little base hits off me. You know if I respected all of them I would probably get all of them out. That\'s my problem I need to work on that.
Paton: What\'s your favorite pitch?
Hammons: My fastball, I think other people\'s favorite pitch is my curve ball. I love my fast ball.
Paton: What was the first pitch you learned?
Hammons: Besides my fast ball? Curve ball.
Paton: What other sports did you play growing up?
Hammons: Soccer, basketball, tennis and golf. My babysitter or my daycare guy was a tennis pro we kinda played everything over there. We played a lot of tennis which is similar to baseball. Ya know you\'re swinging a racquet. We actually turned it into baseball tennis anyway.
Paton: Baseball\'s pretty competitive. Do you feel you\'re a very competitive person? When you\'re on the mound do you feel you\'re competing against yourself or the hitters more?
Hammons: Myself. It takes a lot to stand 60 feet away and throw strikes through a little strike zone. So, I\'m throwing out the hitter, I\'m gonna throw pitches in that zone, with everything I\'ve learned and if they get hits they get hits I\'ll go back on bases if I have to. No it\'s me against me out there."
Paton: It\'s been a long road for you so far what do you feel you\'ve learned along the way?
Hammons: I learned how to budget with no money at all. I\'ve learned how to transfer your balance on your credit card to another credit card every six months. That\'s good when you\'re broke. (Paton: So Survival) Yeah, survival of the fittest. Top Ramen Noodles does feed a human being for quite a long period of time. McDonalds has good deals. Taco Bell used to be 39 cent tacos; they\'ve gone up, 79 cents now. I gotta find a new place for a budget.
Paton: Walmart or Target?
Hammons: Wal-Mart. They\'re three bucks cheaper on everything.
Paton: What do you feel the team dynamics are this season verses last? Do you feel the chemistry is there?
Hammons: It\'s probably better at this point in the season than last year. Last year we had a bunch of animals. We don\'t have as many animals this year. We\'ve got a good group of guys and we all like each other and we\'re all getting along. I\'d say this year definitely is a little bit better, yeah.
Paton: What\'s it like working with pitching coach Jason Verdugo and manager George Tsamis?
Hammons: It\'s fun and interesting with George all the time because he\'s a hilarious person. Verdugo\'s a really serious guy, but he\'s got a joking side to him too. They\'re both winners and their not gonna stand loosing at all, as you may hear echoing from the dugout at times. No but I enjoy it and George was my pitching coach on the Team USA team years ago. We got a silver medal down in Mexico and he\'s a players coach and I enjoy that, and guys like playing for him.
Paton: What advice would you give to parents for their kids if they want to get them involved in sports and baseball specifically?
Hammons: In baseball, they\'ve gotta get the kids off the video games and outside. These kids if they\'re not being watched after school, you know they\'re gonna play games now a days. You can tell the talent level is dropping off. So, get them back outside, get them outdoors and get them practicing.
Paton: What\'s your favorite baseball memory from growing up?
Hammons: From growing up? I never pitched, I was always a catcher. My big older brother was the big star baseball player. In the playoffs, I was 12-years old, we had used all our pitchers, so no one else was available they made me pitch and I threw a no hitter and we won the little league something championship.
Paton: What\'s the most memorable game of your career?
Hammons: I got called up to pitch a big league game for the Cubs, it was in De Moines, Iowa. It was AAA versus Chicago, the big league team and I pitched for Chicago. I struck out the first two batters and I thought wow this is easy. Then I went out and walked three in a row, walked the bases loaded. So I faired good and I faired bad in the same inning. It was my one day in the big leagues with the Cubs. That was a good day, I\'ll never forget it.
Hammons, currently tied for second in saves with nine for the AA League, is still mapping out his big league dreams.