The 24-year-old Californian Matt Vance played four seasons at Harvard University in the Ivy League, graduating in 2008. One year later he joined the Buchbinder Legionaere Regensburg in the German Baseball-Bundesliga. Being the starting shortstop he led the Buchbinder Legionaere to their second national championship after 2008 and later was named MVP in the southern division of the Bundesliga. He was so kind to answer a few questions for Mister-Baseball.
Matt Vance: While I’m originally from Southern California and definitely miss the constant warm weather and sunshine (it’ll be 18 degrees and sunny there today), I’ve moved around a lot the last seven years and have gotten used to all kinds of weather. I spent the last seven winters in Boston, MA which has weather very similar to here in Regensburg so it wasn’t too difficult of an adjust to live here, weather wise anyway.
MRBB: Could you give our readers a brief recap of your Baseball career so far?
MV: Well I’ve played baseball ever since I can remember. Growing up and playing in San Diego, I was surrounded by some incredible ball players so it was hard to standout. In high school, just on my travel team alone, I played with Sean O’Sullivan, a pitcher for the Kansas City Royals, and Stephen Strasburg (you may have already heard of him). But luckily I kept my grades up, caught the eye of some scouts on the East Coast, and was fortunate enough to be recruited to play for Harvard. Playing there was an incredible albeit rocky experience at times. After a tough Senior season in 2008, I went undrafted, and thought I was ready to hang ’em up. But after a year of working, I got that ‘itch’ again and jumped at the chance to play for the Legionäre. Two seasons and a German Championship later, I’ve never had this much fun playing baseball.
MRBB: Did you ever have the chance to play professionally in the United States?
MV: Not really. I maybe could have tried to play Independent Ball after college but when I didn’t get drafted after a very discouraging last college season (we were 10-30), I really didn’t have the heart to try and get picked up by anyone. And when you’re in the situation I was in, unless you have that, “I’m going to make it no matter what anyone says” attitude, you’re not going to go anywhere. So I made a quick exit from the game but was lucky enough to be invited to play out here.
MV: I’ve really enjoyed my time here in Regensburg and the entire European Baseball experience. It’s hard to beat really. You get to continue playing baseball at a very competitive level, live abroad, and travel. A lot of friends who are still playing baseball professionally in the U.S. sometimes wish they could be out here doing what I’m doing. I say sometimes because they, of course, still have a chance to live every player’s dream of making it to the Big Leagues, and it’s impossible to walk away from that.
As far as playing for the Legionäre goes, I’m actually hoping to be able to play for them for the foreseeable future. I’m working in Regensburg full-time now so that I can live and train here all year round.
MRBB: Would you consider playing in Italy or the Netherlands? Did you get offers from other European teams?
MV: I’ve gotten a couple offers from other teams around Europe but I like where I am now and love all the guys on the team, so I hope to be able to play here for a while longer.
MRBB: In European Baseball most of the games are scheduled for the weekends. Could you give us some insight how your day looks like on days without games, especially with the Legionaere facilities in mind?
MV: The last two years my weekdays have been mostly focused on staying in shape throughout the long season and getting extra practice on the field. The other guys living in Regensburg just to play baseball, the sports army players, and I would go to a morning practice a few days a week to get extra swings or fielding practice, the gym pretty much every day, and a core training facility we have access to a couple times week. We’re fortunate enough to have some pretty great facilities so we definitely take advantage of them the best we can. In addition to all the training, last year, I started coaching some of the youth teams here in Regensburg and am now the head coach of the U16 Softball Teams.
MRBB: Besides the light schedule, what are the major differences between the Ivy League and the Bundesliga?
MV: One of the major differences, I think, is the depth of pitching. In college, a lot of teams have incredibly talented relief pitchers to back up their starters. In Germany, especially since we only play two games a week, teams tend to stick with their starting pitchers as long as they can because their bullpens aren’t always that deep. That, and the larger spectrum of talent and experience you see out here. In the First Bundesliga, sometimes teams have 30-year-old men who have played professionally in the U.S. playing with or against 17-year-old kids who are still learning the ins and outs of the game. It makes for an interesting dynamic.
MRBB: You split time in the outfield and at shortstop during your college career, but you solely played at short for Regensburg. What do you like more and what are the biggest differences from a mental aspect?
MV: While I really enjoyed playing CF in college, I think I prefer playing SS. It’s much more challenging. At SS you have to be in constant communication with everyone in the infield, know who’s hitting, and what pitch is going to be thrown, especially when there are runners on base. In the OF, you usually know who is at the plate but you can get away with not being completely invested in all aspects of the mental game.
MRBB: What would you consider as your career highlight(s) so far?
MV: Winning the Ivy League Championship in 2005 and playing in the Cal State Fullerton (the then defending National Champions) Regional on ESPNU & ESPN, getting to play in Fenway Park all four years in college, being named to the All-New England Team in 2007, winning the Deutsche Meisterschaft last year in front of our home crowd and being named the Bundesliga Süd MVP.
MRBB: What will you do following your baseball career?
MV: Good question. I’ll let you know as soon as I figure that out myself.
Mister-Baseball thanks Matt Vance for answering our questions.
Photo: © Walter Keller, www.catchthefever.de