Cougars' Erickson enjoys some quality R&R over all-star break.(Sports)
Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
June 23, 1998 | Bush, JoeByline: Joe Bush Daily Herald Sports Writer
Tonight's Midwest League All-Star game is in Clinton, Iowa.
Kane County third baseman Matt Erickson - the MWL's third-best hitter over the season's first half - is in St. Louis, Missouri. At Six Flags, to be specific.
An amusement park is a great place to escape from a mad, mad world which doesn't put a .330 hitter on an all-star squad, but that's not what Erickson's doing.
He's getting some quality R&R with his girlfriend: a St. Louis Cardinals game using Cards catcher Tom Pagnozzi's seats Monday - he and Pagnozzi share an agent - and thrill rides today.
"It's nice to be recognized, but at the same time, it's kind of a blessing in disguise to get away from the game for awhile," the 1997 seventh-round pick said Sunday, the last day of the season's mid-point.
"We've been going for 72 days in a row, or pretty close. It'll be nice to get away from the game for awhile, then come back for the second half."
This would be called a brave front if voiced by most other minor-league players. If you trust the evaluation of Marlins minor-league director John Boles, Erickson is not like most other minor-leaguers.
"In my opinion, he's going to play in the big leagues," Boles says of Erickson.
Aw, John, you say that about all the guys.
"I wish I could," Boles says.
Erickson plays and hits with the confidence of a guy who has put in perspective a Class A all-star game and his development toward the majors.
"It's nice to be acknowledged for what you've done, but I know what I do for this team each day," Erickson said. "Really, the reward for me is having the opportunity to come out here and play professional baseball every day.
"I'm getting chances right now that not a lot of people get."
That's a no-crybaby viewpoint handed down by two generations of high-level baseball men.
"One of his biggest strengths is his attitude," says Cougars hitting coach Matt Winters. "He's perfect in that sense. You can tell he was raised in a baseball kind of family. He doesn't take setbacks to heart."
Erickson's grandfather, Swede, played second base in the New York Giants' system. His father, Bruce, played shortstop for the University of Wisconsin and has coached high-school ball for more than 20 years.
Erickson is from Appleton, Wis., home of Class A baseball for 36 years, and played his high-school home games on the same field as the Appleton Foxes.
In a neat twist of fate, Boles managed the Appleton Foxes in 1983, when the franchise was a White Sox affiliate.
Since Bruce Erickson coached at Matt's eventual high school, he and Boles were acquaintances.
"Bolesy says he can remember me as a little kid, running around, picking up bats, but I don't know if I believe him or not," Erickson said.
Boles admits he doesn't remember a grade-school Matt, but got a chance to meet him when the Marlins selected the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder out of the University of Arkansas last June.
Erickson was a three-sport prep star, having quarterbacked his school to a state championship his junior season and a runner-up trophy as a senior.
He bypassed a University of Pennsylvania football offer to play baseball at Arkansas, then earned freshman All-America honors.
The left-handed hitter made second-team all-Southeastern Conference his sophomore year, then first-team in 1997.
He led the SEC in doubles (27), and was among the nation's leaders in doubles and runs (86).
Boles and Erickson met at short-season Utica last summer.
"He said 'Don't worry about hitting home runs, we're gonna hit you third (in the order) and you're gonna play third, and when runners get on base, we want you to drive 'em in' " Erickson said.
" 'Try to hit the gaps, and hit the ball where it's pitched.' That was kinda nice to hear those kind of words."
Erickson led the New York-Penn League in on-base percentage (.455) and fielding percentage (.942), and was third in hitting (.328).
Which brings us back to 1998.
He's hitting a couple of points higher than he did last season, in 8 fewer at-bats, but with 72 games to play. He leads the league in on-base percentage and is third in runs scored.
Erickson's not in Clinton with nine other Cougars because at the time of the all-star voting he was batting in the mid .200s.
He battled back to within 15 points of the MWL lead. If you think about it, he earned his three days off.
"I try to be as consistent as possible," Erickson said. "You come out here one day and watch me play, you're not gonna be overly amazed. One of my strengths is I'm fairly consistent over a long period of time."
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