Williams makes return visit to Aces’ World Series party
With one swing of the bat, Matt Williams convinced a scout that he was ready for the Big Leagues.
“I was at Moana Stadium watching UNLV and UNR play. Matt made some good plays,” said Chris Healy, a longtime umpire in Northern Nevada. “He (Al Rosen, a Giants scout and all-star 3rd baseman at Cleveland) watched him for two at-bats and in the field for four or five innings. He watched him make this play and Rosen said ‘I’ve seen enough. Can anyone give me a ride to the airport?’ I gave him a ride to the airport.”
It was that year, 1986, that Williams solidified his baseball career in Nevada, which first begun while playing for Ron McNutt’s Carson Senators for three seasons (1981-1983). Williams also played for McNutt’s traveling team, the Carson Capitols, in the summer before accepting a scholarship from Fred Dallimore at UNLV.
“He was an outstanding athlete first of all and not just on the field,” McNutt said. “It was just his mannerism and how he went about things. He’s a pretty classy guy. On the baseball field, you could just see the talent he had and he would go beyond high school with that talent.”
The Giants were one of the worst teams in baseball, but 23 years ago, Rosen and Roger Craig (Giants manager from 1985-1992) took a chance and ended up saving the team by the Bay. The Giants drafted first baseman Will Clark as the second pick of the first round in 1985, followed by Williams as the third pick in the first round the next year.
“They (Craig and Rosen) saved them. We probably wouldn’t have a team now,” Healy recalled.
As the region’s commissioner for baseball, Healy has seen his share of extreme talent in the area. When Williams played, Healy just started umpiring varsity games and also worked for one of the TV stations.
Healy said Williams wasn’t the top prospect coming out of high school at the time. Along with the Carson native, Rob Ritchie (Hug High) and John Savage (Reno High) lit up Northern Nevada baseball.
“That was an unbelievable time in high school baseball, a pivotal time,” Healy said. “The same year Matt graduated from high school, he was on everyone’s radar, but he was an afterthought as far as the scouts were concerned. Matt was not the number one guy in any sense. He was a great player even then.”
USC and Arizona State wanted Williams on their squad, but Dallimore said the magic phrase to move the slugger to Las Vegas.
The UNLV coach, unlike the rest of the schools, told Williams that not only would he get serious playing time, but he would start as a freshman. USC and ASU said the sophomore stage would be the earliest Williams would play.
“I think Matty had some chances to go to a lot of places,” McNutt said. “Fred gave him instant playing time as a freshman. Some of those other big-name places would have him redshirt. By staying in-state and going to Las Vegas, it allowed to him to play right away and it benefited him.”
Williams, as his professional career indicated, was a third baseman. But Dallimore experimented with him at short stop and in the long run, it helped him become better at the left corner.
It was McNutt, though, that got Williams going.
“Coach McNutt was not necessarily the most technical coach, but when he motivated, he got the best out of his players and an opportunity to get seen,” Williams said of his former coach. “It’s invaluable. We got a chance to be seen by college and pro scouts.”
He’s also just as well known as being the coach of the Carson Capitols, a team he led to well over 1,000 wins. McNutt led Carson to two state titles in 1979 and 1992 and had numerous players from his Capitol and Senator teams play at the professional level.
“For years, scouts didn’t like to come over in March and April and were busy in California, and they thought to catch him in May,” McNutt said. “There’s a lot of talent in this area. It just helps when you have a player like that. It filters down to the other kids and they work a little bit harder.”
Once Williams passed the high school and college baseball tests, his opportunity to excel at the professional level began with the Giants. It wasn’t until the third team when Williams received baseball’s crown jewel.
After spending 10 years with the Giants and one with the Indians, Williams found himself making history with the Diamondbacks as they became the fastest team to win a World Series. Even more astonishing was that Arizona won the Series in the final game against the heavily favored Yankees.
“I will always bleed black and orange. That will never go away,” said Williams, who, with another player, was traded to Cleveland in 1997 for Jeff Kent, Jose Vizcaino and Julian Taverez.
Williams started his baseball career as the Carson Crusher when he tormented Northern Nevada pitching. But because of influential mentors, Williams went from the state’s silver star to its golden.