May 20, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

Matt McLain glad he kept his commitment to UCLA, which aims for College World Series title

UCLA Athletics - 2019 UCLA Baseball Media Day portraits, Jackie Robinson Stadium, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA January 10th, 2019 Copyright Don Liebig/ASUCLA McLain_Matt_003.NEF

Matt McLain has played center field and third base this year for UCLA. (Photo courtesy UCLA Athletic Communications, For OC Sports Zone)

About a year ago, Beckman High’s all-county shortstop Matt McLain had a big decision to make after being selected in the first round (25th pick) by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Major League draft.

McLain had made a verbal commitment to play for UCLA in his freshman year and had received a scholarship to play for the Bruins. He dreamed of playing for the Bruins since he was a child.

McLain, an All-CIF Division 2 player as a senior, had to weigh an offer of a $2.6 million signing bonus with the Diamondbacks or honor his commitment to play at UCLA.

After careful consideration, he opted for school and a baseball career with UCLA, coached by John Savage.

It looks like it’s all worked out well for McLain, who said he is happy with his decision and has no regrets about turning down the Diamondbacks offer and joining UCLA.

It has been quite a freshman year for McLain.

McLain and his UCLA teammates won the Pac-12 title and now they have a chance to reach the College World Series as the No. 1 national seed. UCLA opens the Los Angeles Regional Friday night at 7 at Jackie Robinson Stadium.

“It’s been everything I hoped it would be, obviously winning the Pac-12. and now we get a chance to play for something bigger than that,” McLain said in an interview this week. “It’s awesome.”

The team has put in a solid effort from the start, McLain said.

“We worked really hard the off season and whole season,” McLain said about the Pac-12 title. “We have to play our own brand of baseball and that will take us wherever we want to go as long as we do that. We’ve got a lot of work to do.

“I’m very happy, especially the way it’s played out so far.”

McLain, who started out in center field and then moved to third base, has had some big games this year, including a two-home run game against Washington State on the road. On the season he’s batting .201 with 27 runs scored, nine doubles, six triples, four home runs, 29 RBI and six stolen bases and has started 52 of the 55 games for UCLA (47-8).

McLain, who played second base and shortstop at Beckman, has adapted well to the new positions. His fielding percentage is .989 and he has made just one error all season with 89 putouts.

“I started off in center field and then recently I’ve been playing at third base,” said McLain, who has not declared a major yet. “It’s been cool. I didn’t play much center field before I got here but it was a pretty smooth transition. At Beckman, I would also randomly take balls in center field just for the heck of it, in case anything ever happened.

“It’s always been something I knew I was able to do but was never told to do it until I got here and now I’m back at third base, which is cool too. Third base is a little different, but the same concept.”

A couple games stand out this year.

“My favorite game would obviously be the game that we won the Pac-12 in Oregon because that’s something that’s bigger than myself winning that Pac-12 and the first point where all of our work kind of paid off,” McLain said.

“But there’s a lot more stuff down the road with playoffs coming up that we have a chance to do.”

The game at Washington State, when he was 2 for 4 with three runs scored and four RBI, stood out individually.

“(That) was pretty cool because I haven’t had two home runs in a game so that was different,” he said.

McLain said there have been challenges adapting from high school to college competition.

“I would say everyone is really good, not that everyone is not really good in high school but the level of competitiveness in college across the board is higher than high school,” McLain said. “But Beckman prepared me really well for it.”

He has been busy, playing in almost every game this year.

“It’s really cool getting a chance to play in almost every game and go out there and see what it’s like after I’ve been watching college baseball all through my high school career and getting a chance to go out there and play is really cool,” McLain said.

McLain and his teammates have some unfinished business and the former Patriot standout said no one on the team is looking past the Los Angeles Regional.

“The ultimate goal is to go there (the College World Series) and win, but we have to take it day by day,” he said. “It starts with today, go out there and have a good practice today and day by day, it will take care of itself. If we play our brand of baseball, it will all be good in the end.

“We have Omaha, LMU and Baylor and they’re all really good teams. Every team that’s in the tournament now is really good so you have to respect every team the same and at the same time, you got to go out there and compete and play the way we know how how to play and the way we’ve been playing all season long and we’ll be just fine.”

McLain said he has received plenty of support along the way from his family.

“My family has been out there, my two brothers have been out there for a lot of the games,” he said. “My parents come to almost every game.”

McLain also followed Beckman High’s season. His two younger brothers, Sean (who was a senior) and Nick (a sophomore) had stellar seasons for the Patriots, who won the Pacific Coast League title. McLain admits he missed playing with his brothers.

“I know they won the league, they made it into the playoffs, I know they lost in the first round but they had a great season.” McLain said. “All the guys on that team had good seasons and they got to put up a banner on that wall which is really cool and I know that’s the goal from the start.”

McLain’s former coach at Beckman, Kevin Lavalle, has been following the former Patriot and said he is impressed with what McLain has accomplished.

“It has been a lot of fun following Matt throughout the year,” Lavalle said. “I probably talk to him once a week, and I think the most important thing to remember is that he has to balance baseball, school, being a son, being a brother… it’s stressful to think about how many different ways he is being pulled. It’s funny to read group text messages that we have going and realize that Matt is still the same kid that he was three or four years ago.

“I’m sure Matt has learned a lot this year, but let’s not forget that in January he is thrust into center field, which is a new position altogether, and then three weeks before the post season, they say ‘hey you’re playing third base.’

“It’s a real testament to how athletic he is. I know everyone wants to be the hero and a freshman All American and have gaudy numbers, but Matt would trade all of that for the winning experience that he has been a part of. We are all very proud of him.”

McLain said his dreams of playing in the Major Leagues are still very much alive and he will be eligible for the draft again after his junior year.

“I’m not worried about that, that will take care of itself,” he said. “That’s my ultimate goal to get out there and play in the Major Leagues under the lights.”

But for now, McLain is focused on the Los Angeles Regional, the first step toward the College World Series in Omaha.

He said this UCLA team just needs to keep doing what it has all season.

“We go out there every day like it’s opening day and play our hearts out and play like our backs are against the wall,” he said.

RELATED: Orange County players help Bruins earn top national seed

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