On Monday morning, Kevin Matthews merely one of hundreds of prospects hoping for a shot at the big leagues.
That changed dramatically Monday night, when the Texas Rangers made the 18-year-old Richmond Hill High School product their first-round draft choice and pro baseball’s 33rd overall pick.
The announcement on the MLB Network set off fireworks in the Matthews household.
“All I remember is that I jumped up when I heard my name,” Matthews said Tuesday. “Everyone was screaming and yelling. It was a lot of fun.”
Celebrating with Matthews at home were his mom, Cheryl, and his younger sister, Kelsey.
Matthew’s father, Dennis, was on a business trip in Virginia — “We were texting back and forth,” he said — and sister Kendall was away at school.
Also there to lend support were a dozen of Matthews’ closest friends, who witnessed something Matthews still found hard to believe the next day.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” he said. “I can’t even begin to explain it. I never thought this would happen.”
With a fastball that consistently reaches the lower 90s and command of three pitches, it seems few doubt Matthews has the stuff to pitch at the next level.
But at 5 foot, 10 inches and 160 pounds, he doesn’t fit the mold of a prototypical major-league pitcher.
Matthews, who is athletic enough to do a 360-degree dunk, uses that as motivation.
“Every short person has had someone tell them they’re too short to do something, they won’t make it,” he said. “I like to use that to try to prove them wrong.”
With an eye toward the draft, Matthews recently hired New York manager Bobby Barad.
“Dad and I were getting overwhelmed with all the phone calls,” Matthews said. “I really liked Bobby. We’re very similar. That’s why I chose him.”
Up next for Barad and Matthews will be negotiations — as a first round pick he likely will receive a substantial signing bonus before reporting to whatever farm club the Rangers choose. And he could arrive in style. Though currently driving a 2002 Ford Expedition, Matthews said he’s looking to upgrade “a little bit.”
Every year Matthews has pitched, his fastball has upgraded as well. It was in the low- to mid-80s during his sophomore season. This year, it consistently topped 90 mph.
Taking note were pro scouts with clipboards and radar guns, a common sight at RHHS games in 2011.
Matthews credits offseason work with traveling teams for much of his improvement.
“My ninth- and 10th-grade year, (Stacey Bennett) was my travel ball coach and I think that’s how it all jump started.”
Bennett, now head baseball coach at RHHS, ran Southeastern Athletics and had some of the area’s top prospects on board, including Zach Dotson, a 2009 Georgia signee.
“They came to see him and coach Bennett told them to stick around because he had another lefty they might want to see,” Matthews said.
One thing led to another, and Matthews soon found himself playing on a travel team that went north to Ohio.
“Every kid on that team signed a D-1 scholarship,” said Matthews, who inked with the University of Virginia. “That helped me a lot.”
Matthews likely won’t throw for the Cavaliers next summer. He said he’s ready to go to work for the Rangers.
Yet, Matthews said he’s still a normal 18-year-old who likes to hang out with friends. He said he owes thanks to his parents, coaches and friends — and “God for blessing me with the gift I have,” he said.
Now, he’ll try to turn that gift into a livelihood and a dream into reality.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “I really can’t explain it. I just like to go out there and pitch. I’m fortunate enough to where I know this is hopefully going to be my job and I can play baseball for a living. That really motivates me to do well.”
Jeff Whitten covers sports for the Bryan County News and Coastal Courier.