By: Mike Rose
Just over 17% of all players drafted and signed in the MLB Draft each year ever reach their dreams of making it to the big league level. Even fewer go on to make more than a few spot appearances in the show.
Of the 1521 picks made in the 2009 MLB Draft many names jump off the page. Arguably the best pitching prospect of this generation, Stephen Strasburg was selected No.1 overall, arguably the best player of this generation, Mike Trout was selected at No. 25, and eight-time All-Star Nolan Arenado was selected at pick No. 59. One name that did not draw many headlines was at pick No. 699 to the St. Louis Cardinals in the now extinct 23rd round. That name was Matt Adams from Philipsburg, PA and Slippery Rock University.
"I didn't get many D1 offers so I just knew that I was going to have to keep playing the game the way I knew how to play if I wanted to put myself on the map and I played with a chip on my shoulder. I knew as a later-round guy that I had to produce from the get-go. There was no leniency with having a slow start or having a slow year. I knew I had to be on my game from day one," Adams said.
The man now known as 'Big City,' Adams began his career playing, like most, in quite small cities. He made his pro debut in Johnson City playing rookie ball before moving up to a town not far from his current home ballpark in Rochester, joining the Batavia Muckdogs. He says that as a young player early in his career the move was initially difficult.
"I wasn't really great with change at that time. I was still a young kid trying to learn his way in pro ball. We had some guys on that staff that helped make the transition easier and made it fun to show up to the ballpark every day," Adams said.
From there Adams continued to work his way up the ladder in the Cardinals minor league system. He compiled 96 home runs and 362 RBI across all levels of the minors between 2009-2012 including stops with the Quad Cities River Bandits, Springfield Cardinals, Peoria Javelinas, and Memphis Redbirds. Adams peaked as the No. 9 ranked prospect in the organization in 2012 according to MLB.com before making his MLB debut later that year.
That debut would come on May 20, 2012, at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles. The Cardinals would fall 6-5 but Adams produced his first two career big league hits in a 2-for-4 performance.
Adams would appear as a regular in the Cardinals lineup in 2013 hitting .284 with 17 home runs and 51 RBI across 108 games. He'd move on to make his postseason debut in 2013 as the Cardinals advanced all the way to the World Series before falling to the Boston Red Sox in six games. However, it was in the 2014 postseason that Adams would deliver a moment for the ages.
After a season that saw Adams appear in a career-high 144 games, the Cardinals found themselves back in the postseason. It was Game 4 of the National League Division Series (NLDS) with the Cardinals leading the series 2-1 over the Dodgers but trailing at home 2-0 heading into the seventh inning. Clayton Kershaw, fresh off his MVP regular season was on the mound working on yet another shutout. However, Matt Holliday and Johnny Peralta would both single to bring Adams to the plate with no outs in the bottom of the seventh for what would become the at-bat of his life.
"I saw the curveball pop out of his hand and I just wanted to make a nice easy swing. I knew if I tried to swing too hard I was gonna get jammed with it or get beat with it. I just wanted to get the barrel to the ball and I stayed through it and got the result with the ball over the fence and rounding the bases to a sold-out Busch Stadium and getting a curtain call. Then I had to go into the clubhouse to try and calm myself back down because we still had two innings to go. So I had to reign it in real quick but that was definitely a highlight of my career," Adams said.
The three-run home run from Adams would put the Cardinals ahead for good and send them into the National League Championship Series (NLCS), where they'd ultimately fall to the eventual world-champion San Francisco Giants. It also would mark the first home run from a left-handed batter off a Kershaw curveball in his major league career to that point. Another lefty wouldn't beat Kerhsaw's curve for a home run until Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon in the 2019 season. Ironically enough the 2019 season would also serve up another career highlight for Adams.
After a couple more seasons in St. Louis, a stint in Atlanta, a stop in Washington, and a return to St. Louis, Adams signed on for the second time with the Washington Nationals in December of 2018. Adams would appear in 111 games in 2019 for the Nationals, posting 20 home runs, 56 RBI and a .226 average for a team who would put together a season that will never be forgotten.
"We started out not great at all. I think we were 19-32 through the first 51 games and we got a couple of key pieces, Anibal Sanchez and (Gerardo) Parra. We brought those guys into the clubhouse and it just changed the dynamic, brought everyone together as a family and we started to play better baseball. We started to just take it day-by-day and not look too far down the road and we put together some good stretches of baseball," Adams said.
What awaited the Nationals down the road was a historic turnaround. Washington would go on to win 74 of the final 112 games that season, finishing 93-69 and as National League East champions. They'd ride the momentum all the way to a World Series championship and although Adams only appeared in four games that postseason, all as a pinch hitter, reaching the mountaintop of baseball still felt just as good.
"It's a year I'll never forget being able to be a part of that team and bring a title to (Washington) DC was pretty special," Adams said.
After the 2019 season came to a close Adams headed back to Atlanta for the 2020 season before spending 2021 with the Colorado Rockies organization. After uninspiring results, it appeared as though Adams' professional career may be over.
He'd spend the 2022 season in Kansas City as a member of the Monarchs in the American Association, an Independent league. Across 80 games with the Monarchs, Adams compiled 27 home runs and 87 RBI which was enough to earn a contract from a familiar franchise in Washington. Although Adams has yet to appear in a game at the big league level this season, he's helped serve as a veteran leader for this year's Red Wings team and believes he still has lots to give the game.
"Just knowing that I can still play the game. Knowing that I have a lot to offer to the game, to younger guys who are coming up through, showing them how to be a true professional and how to go about the right way on a day-to-day basis and I just love the game. Whatever it looks like, whatever it might be just trying to get to that holy grail of 10 years. I'm feeling like I still have a lot left in the tank and I'm going to keep going," Adams said.
He's proven to still have plenty to contribute for Rochester this season, even at age 34. Adams boasts a .266 batting average with 12 home runs and 35 RBI in 73 games with the Wings.
Although the stage hasn't always been the biggest or the lights the brightest, ''Big City' has found a way to make his presence felt wherever he has gone.