May 27, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

FOLLOW-UP: First round pick Matt McLain wants to help Reds win another World Series one day

Matt McLain from Beckman High School and UCLA signed with the Cincinnati Reds last week. (Photo courtesy the McLain family)

The Former Beckman and UCLA star signed with Cincinnati for $4.625 million and is now working out at the Reds training facility in Arizona.

It may seem like a life-changing event for a 21-year-old but former Beckman High School and UCLA baseball standout Matt McLain seems to be taking it all in stride after signing with the Cincinnati Reds for $4.625 million.

McLain, a shortstop, was selected as the 17th player overall in the first round by the Reds.

However, McLain said the experience hasn’t changed his life much.

“I’m still the same person, I’m still Matt, having fun playing baseball,” McLain said in a phone interview with OC Sports Zone Friday. “I’m in Arizona, not in So Cal but at the end of the day, I’m still on a baseball field with the bases 90 feet apart and the pitching mound 60 feet away. Other than that, I’m the same person.”

“It’s been awesome, obviously the draft happened and now I’m out in Arizona at the draft camp for the Reds with all the other draft picks kind of getting in shape getting ready to go play somewhere whether it’s here or in Daytona Beach or they also have a team in Dayton, we will see what happens there,” McLain said.

“From the time our season ended until the draft, I was just trying to stay in shape because you know you’re going to have to go out there and play and overall, it’s been a really good process and really good learning process for me.”

McLain stayed in shape by working out every day with his personal coach Joe Demarco so he could “hit the ground running,” he said.

The excitement started on Sunday, July 11 on Major League Draft day. McLain said he wasn’t sure what to expect.

“It was crazy because all the teams kind of keep things close to themselves up until the last second, so I didn’t really know where I was going to go to be honest with you until about right before the Reds picked,” he said. “That was really interesting. I wasn’t nervous, I was excited more than anything to know where I wanted to go. I was ready to go play baseball. I was getting bored at home.”

McLain, who played for Tustin Eastern Little League as a youngster, was appreciative of the support of many, including his family.

“They’re all stoked, I couldn’t do it without my family and friends obviously mom and dad especially, they’ve always been there for me,” he said. “It’s a good start, but it’s just a start, at the same time you got a long way to go.”

McLain grew up as an Angels fan but said he has followed the Reds in the past, in fact he found a Reds hat that he had kept in his closet, to wear that day.

“I know they’re the oldest organization and they have (some) World Series rings (five) under their belts, which is really cool,” McLain said. “I know they have a tradition of great players and just overall a great, really rich baseball tradition.”

McLain hasn’t been to Great American Ball Park, the home of the Reds, but will go there in late September with his family.

“I’ve heard it’s a hitter’s ball park, which is cool because I’m a hitter,” McLain said. “I heard it’s a great ball park and they have great fans and some great support system over there in Cincinnati.”

McLain said the signing process in Arizona at the Reds training headquarters also went well.

“That was cool, it was here the other day in Arizona, my family was here, Sean (one brother) was able to come out, Nick (another brother) wasn’t. He is out in Bellingham playing baseball right now in the West Coast League,” he said. “We had physicals, passed the physicals and got to sign and it was truly cool to get a chance to sign on the dotted line, because that’s when it becomes official. As cool as it was, it was time to get to work and time to get out onto the field and continue to get better.”

The Tustin resident downplayed the significance of the lucrative contract, which is more than $1 million over what is normally given to a player selected 17th in the first round.

“It was cool, I play for the love of the game more than anything,” he said. “Money is just secondary and it was cool. I guess it kind of showed that I got better from high school like I said I was going to. But at the end of the day, the draft is the draft and now it’s time to go to work and work my way through the minors and hopefully get a chance to play with the Reds at the big league level.”

McLain said he hasn’t thought much about what he might purchase.

“No, I haven’t looked into anything,” McLain said. “I’ve got a car right now I’m happy with, but no, I haven’t really looked into much. I haven’t really thought about that too much.”

It all seemed to work out just right for McLain, who turned down a $2.6 million offer from the Arizona Diamondbacks when he was drafted out of high school in the first round as the 25th overall pick in 2018. He opted to honor his commitment to UCLA and play for the Bruins. McLain indicated that he’s grateful to the UCLA coaches, including head coach John Savage.

“The coaches at UCLA …. are second to none, they got the best program in the country,” he said. “Nick (his brother, also from Beckman) is going there, I’m really excited for him and I got better every year. No matter what, they were always there for me on and off the field and I couldn’t have done it without them.”

McLain said he was also grateful to Beckman head coach Kevin Lavalle for helping him along the way.

“Coach Lavalle set me up for UCLA,” he said. “I got a lot better there from my freshman to my senior year with Coach Lavalle and the rest of the coaches supporting me trying to get me better on the field and move me from second base to shortstop and that’s where I really learned how to play shortstop was with Coach Lavalle. That’s really where it all started and from there I just tried to get a little bit better every single day and every single week and continue to build on my past and hopefully end up in the Major Leagues one day for a while.”

The process is under way as McLain works out with other players who were drafted by the Reds in the team’s minor league headquarters in Goodyear, Ariz. The players, who stay in an apartment complex, work out six days a week with Sunday’s off.

McLain said he was happy to get back out on the baseball field.

“It’s hot out here, but it’s better hot than cold honestly,” he said. “We get there about 1, eat lunch and then go through a practice around 3 and end at about 6:30 or 7 and then lift after, so it’s a full day for sure. It was a lot of fun. I got to meet with all the other draft picks, they’ve been out here for a little longer than me, but they’re a good group of guys and I’m looking forward to getting to know them further on and off the field.”

McLain said there is no timetable for him to reach the Major Leagues to play for the Reds.

“Whenever I’m ready, hopefully as soon as possible,” he said. “But there are steps you got to take. I’ve got a long ways to go. I got to get better but as soon as they think I’m ready, they’re going to put me there, I hope. I hope as soon as possible. You just try and get better and then once you’re good enough, they will put you up.”

McLain has already thought about his goals should he fulfill his dreams of reaching the Majors.

“Obviously, win a World Series and be the best teammate and best player I can be,” he said. “If I become the best version of myself, I’m going to reach my full potential and that’s all I can really ask for is to go out there every day and work as hard as I can get a little bit better and do it the next day and then eventually, all those accolades are going to come secondary. But more than anything, I want to win a World Series.”

McLain started thinking about being a Major League player around the age of 8. Many other youngsters have similar dreams.

“Just keep working, take it day to day, have fun more importantly than anything,” McLain said when asked about his advice for youngsters. “That’s something that my parents have always instilled in me from day one is to always have fun and never take stuff too seriously and work hard.”

McLain also had a message for those who have supported him along the way.

“Thank you, I’m pumped to get this journey started,” he said.

—Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com