Walbeck still follows Twins from afar

The former Twins catcher has found his calling teaching baseball to youngsters in the Sacramento area.

Twins career: Matt Walbeck, now 42, played with Minnesota from 1994-96. During his time with the Twins, Walbeck, a catcher, played in 275 games, the most he played for any team during his 11-year major league career. He batted .230 with 103 RBI and eight home runs during those three seasons.

After breaking into the league in 1993 with the Chicago Cubs, Walbeck was traded to Minnesota. But the 1994 season was shortened due to the players' strike. The Twins played just 113 games that year, and the 1995 season was also affected slightly.

For a player trying to find his way in the majors, the strike was tough on Walbeck.

"There were some growing pains along the way for me personally as a player having to learn to play at the major league level and then certainly having to go on strike and all that," Walbeck said. "Our teams weren't exactly the best. We were halfway in between rebuilding and phasing out that (1991) World Series team there due to free agency and whatnot."

Despite the strike, Walbeck remembers his time in Minnesota fondly. One of his career highlights came in 1994, when he caught Scott Erickson's no-hitter against the Milwaukee Brewers.

"I had the great fortune of playing with some stars like Kirby Puckett, Kent Hrbek and Dave Winfield, (Paul) Molitor and (Chuck) Knoblauch, (Rick) Aguilera -- a lot of great players," Walbeck said. "Certainly having the opportunity to play for Tom Kelly, it was wonderful. It was a great experience."

After Minnesota: After the 1996 season, the Twins traded Walbeck to the Detroit Tigers for minor leaguer Brent Stentz. Walbeck was in Detroit for just one season in 1997 before he was again traded, this time to the Anaheim Angels. He spent three years in Anaheim, playing in 262 total games while batting .240 with 15 home runs.

From there, Walbeck spent one year in Philadelphia in 2001 but appeared in just one game for the Phillies, instead spending most of the season at Triple-A. Walbeck finished his career back in Detroit, playing the 2002-03 seasons with the Tigers. After playing 59 games in 2003 and batting .174 with six RBI, Walbeck called it a career.

During his 11 seasons, Walbeck batted a combined .233 with 208 RBI, 28 home runs and a .280 on-base percentage. He also hit two career grand slams, including one with the Twins in 1994.

After retirement: Baseball is still very much a part of Walbeck's life. After his playing days were over, he spent several seasons as a minor league manager. He enjoyed a successful season as the third base coach of the Texas Rangers in 2008, when Texas was the highest-scoring team in Major League Baseball.

But "for whatever reason," Walbeck was let go at the end of the year.

"(Manager) Ron Washington wanted to bring in one of his people," Walbeck said.

Walbeck actually had plenty of success during his six seasons as a minor league manager, including being named the Minor League Manager of the Year by Baseball America in 2007 when he was with Double-A Erie. The Seawolves finished 81-59 that season under Walbeck

One of his more recent jobs came with the Altoona Curve, the Double-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He led the Curve to the Eastern League championship and was named the 2010 Double-A Manager of the Year.

Despite a successful season, however, Altoona let Walbeck go and he was not retained after the year. After managing Altoona, Walbeck spent part of the 2011 season in the Atlanta Braves' minor league system as manager of the Class-A Rome Braves but was let go before the season was over.

"So I realized that managing in the minor leagues probably wasn't my forte," Walbeck said. "With a passion for baseball and wanting to teach players how to play, I opened up my own baseball academy."

Walbeck officially opened up the Walbeck Baseball Academy this January. Based in the greater Sacramento area, Walbeck teaches baseball skills to area youth, primarily 12-to-14-year-olds — although he said his clientele range in age from seven to 55.

"I just have a natural ability to teach. Also, with my experience in baseball, it feels right," Walbeck said. "The responses have been very positive. It's not just teaching kids how to hit and throw, but it's also how to overcome adversity and how to be positive and confident and believe in yourself and think you can do it and know you can do it."

Walbeck and his wife, Stephanie, have three children: son Luke, 14, and daughters Olivia (12) and Tatum (5).

As a fan: Walbeck grew up in the Sacramento area and was a San Francisco Giants fan growing up. But he said he has several major league teams he still keeps an eye on.

"I watch all the teams that I worked or played for. I certainly follow the Twins," he said. "As a kid, I grew up a San Francisco Giants fan so now that I don’t have an affiliate with anybody, I pull strongly for the Giants."

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