In this episode, Kurt talks to major league baseball player, Matt Murton about his stint on the Chicago Cubs and gathers questions from the audience to ask Matt Murton.
Listen to “Episode 53: Stories of the Journey – Matt Murton” on Spreaker.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill, where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. It’s a pleasure to be with you here in the Defenders Media offices in West Chicago, Illinois and we are the, Chris, how do you say it?
Chris: The #1 internationally broadcast apologetics podcast from West Chicago.
Kurt: That works for me. Basically, we’re the only apologetics podcast coming out of West Chicago here, but it’s good to be back here in the offices. Last week, I was at Crescent Lake Bible Camp, bringing you episode 52 last week. It was an Ask Me Anything episode and hopefully, you’ve had the opportunity to listen to that. If not, I want to encourage you to go back and to listen to some of the questions that people had. I want to thank you all for your engagement on that. Those that submitted questions ahead of time or those that had questions right then and there while we were doing the livestream. Thanks for those questions. Of course, if you want to continue asking me questions, I’d be happy to entertain those. There are a few ways you can get in touch with me. You can text the word VERACITY to the number 555-888 and it’s totally free. You can text questions in or comments in to me. You can also email me, Kurt@veracityhill.com. You can connect with us on Facebook or Twitter. Just search for Veracity Hill, and then lastly, if you want to call in, any time during the week or especially during our shows, the number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505- 278-7483. We’ve got a special guest on this week’s episode and he is a former professional baseball player and I was connected with him through his cousin actually and so I’m very pleased to introduce to you, Matt Murton. Matt. Thanks for coming on the show today.
Matt: Kurt. Thanks for having me.
Kurt: Yeah. Great. Now, as most of my followers know I’m a devout Cubs fan and so I remember washing you when I was late into high school. You made your debut with the Cubs in 2005 and were with the Cubs for a few years, and you were a fan favorite. Maybe it was because of the red hair. Would you say that was one of the reasons why?
Matt: It’s very possible. The red hair always had a way of giving me a little bit of an advantage.
Kurt: I remember at the time you were one of my favorites because of your style of play. You were a contact hitter and that I think was very important, and interestingly enough, it wasn’t until a few years later, sort of the sabermetrics movement began to grow and people became interested in those sorts of statistics and style of just simply getting on base. At any rate, we’ve got a few questions here for you today and wanted to talk about your journey along in recognizing that you had these special gifts to be a professional athlete, because only so many people can become a professional athlete, and how you recognized those things and where it led you, and then we’ll follow up at the end here with what you’re up to today. Before I begin, let me thank you again for coming on the show and looking forward to having a good discussion with you.
Matt: Yeah man. Thank you. I’m looking forward to it as well.
Kurt: My first question for you is this. When I was about in third grade, I think it was. Maybe it was second, I saw Michael Jordan play basketball for the first time, and I took a liking to playing basketball. Some people discover, become interested in sports, earlier than that. For you, when did you realize that you first liked to play the game of baseball?
Matt: Well, you know, I actually grew up in a home where my Dad was a high school football coach, so I grew up around sports. I think it’s just natural. Whatever environment you may be in, it’s natural to kind of lean towards those things. For me, it was anything with a ball. Football, basketball, baseball, whatever it was, I loved playing it. I remember seeing pictures of myself. Certainly I don’t remember it, but I remember pictures of myself, me, a couple of years old dragging that big red plastic bat around and swinging it. The first time I actually played organized sport was when I was six years old in tee-ball, but it was always something I loved to do, just being around sport and doing sport, from a very young age.
Kurt: Is that something your parents very much encouraged or you just discovered on your own? Do you have athletic parents? Does it sort of run in your family?
Matt: I think it was kind of like I said. Just a natural maturation. My Dad played sports in high school. He played football. He wrestled, and he played baseball. This was up in Ohio, so wrestling was kind of big up there, and he loved it. He ended up playing collegiately. He played football and he played baseball as well. He played at a small school. It was a small school up in Ohio. Wallace[NP1] . Then it kind of ended for him. Obviously, Dad had some atheltic ability to at least be able to go play in college and him coaching it and kind of being around it, I think it was just a natural thing for me to want to do it.
Kurt: You had that benefit of coming from a sports family. That’s good.
Kurt: I on the other hand, I think I’m a whopping 5’8″ so sports wasn’t exactly, I mean Jose Altuve, he’s short and he can hit the ball so.
Matt: He sure can. That’s the beauty in baseball. You[NP2] can take a bunch of ordinary guys and actually take the time to learn a skill set and there’s a chance for us ordinary guys compared to the NBA to the NFL and that makes it a little bit more difficult.
Kurt: That’s right. You talked about how you played some other sports. Did you have any other interests as you grew up? Any sort of academic or other hobbies or were sports kind of your sole focus?
Matt: Yeah. You know what? I think I was kind of boring in order to be good at something, you have to be kind of boring if you’re willing to do it over and over and over again so, I remember, obviously I had other interests. I was heavily involved in the church. I loved hanging out with my friends, but a lot of it stemmed around athletics. I just remember being in high school and I had friends who told me, “Man. Your Dad’s like a drill sergeant.” They didn’t realize I was kind of making the choice for myself. They said, “You never come out and do this or that.” They said, “You’re either playing baseball or cutting grass. It seems like that’s all you ever do.” Needless to say, I guess it was somewhat of a boring quote, unquote, boring person in my upbringing. Obviously, as a kid, I remember when I was 12 years old I got my first Nintendo Entertainment System, which was quite the thing at the time, so I enjoyed playing some video games. I was involved in the church and then sports and that’s pretty much, I was watching sports on TV and playing them and that’s kind of who I was.
Kurt: Well I’m glad that you didn’t become a professional video game player or a professional grass cutter.
Matt: Exactly right. For my sake, I think that my skill set might serve me better with what I did. It’s the way it was intended to be.
Kurt: At what point then, perhaps very early on for you, did you recognize, I mean maybe it wasn’t baseball, maybe it was another sport, but when did you recognize that baseball was going to be your vocation?
Matt: Yeah. That’s a great question, because in all reality I don’t think I realized it would be my vocation until I was 19 or 20 years old.
Matt: Here’s the theory that we had. I think we’re changing in today’s culture. What you’re seeing now with the internet and with social media and just technology today, I think it has some distinct advantages. Obviously the world has gotten a lot smaller and we’re able to communicate in ways that we obviously never have been and I think that that’s amazing. I think at the same time, there’s so much information out there today, people are told who they are and what they are at a very young age. They’re defined a lot younger, so for us without having as much as that, we more or less just enjoyed playing sport. To be quite frank, until I was 16 years old, I never played more than probably 30 games a year. I played baseball in the spring and golf in the summer and football until I couldn’t do that anymore because of my neck in the fall, and basketball in the winter. I tried all of it and I think it was right around 15 years old, I was always fortunate enough to excel in sport at a young age, but I was never way better than any of the kids. I wasn’t that kid. I just played sport and I enjoyed it and I was okay at it. So when I was 15, my Dad having been around sport and coaching and he thought there was a chance that I had some ability to play it, but he really didn’t know for certain, because he’s Dad and he obviously might be a little biased or what not. He had a friend down in South Florida that he had coached with. His name was Rich Hoffman, Westminster Christian, and Rich had had Alex Rodriguez and Alex Cora and Doug Mientkiewicz and a number of players and was known to kind of produce a lot of higher end high school talent. They were national champs at one point. Dad’s like, “He’s got camps. I’m gonna send you down at 15. I’m giving you a chance. I’m gonna let him evaluate you. He’ll tell me what he thinks. He’s had a lot of great players and what not.” And so when I went down there, Rich was kind enough. He gave his opinion and his opinion was one in which it led my parents to believe they wanted to create more opportunity for me. So starting at 16 years old, that’s when I started playing in the summers at a place called East Cobb, and it was in Atlanta, and it was one of the better teams in the country and we traveled around, played, and I did that at 16, so 16, 17, 18, I was pretty serious about it.
Kurt: That seems relatively late in baseball for someone to discover that their gifted in this area. Is that right?
Matt: Yeah. I mean, in today’s world.
Kurt: In today’s society. Right.
Matt: Sure. I’ve heard
Alex Cora with the Astros, my understanding is that he didn’t get started until
a little bit later as well. I think what you hear from a lot of coaches
nowadays is they stress, at the collegiate level actually, for kids to play multiple
sports, so we could get into this long discussion on a million different
things. One in which would be obviously, why there are the arms[NP3] breaking down the way
they are today in baseball compared to years previous and stuff like that.
There’s some science behind it. Maybe it’s the amount of throwing they’re doing
at younger ages or what not, but point being, yes. At 15, 16, years old, that
was quote, unquote, late in the game, but in reality though I really
believe if you are truly gifted and talented in an area, now don’t get me
wrong. I played baseball my whole life and I just didn’t, I didn’t attack it as
my profession. I was a kid and it never really became that serious to me in
regards to pursuing it beyond what I was doing in that moment till I
was 16 and at that point all I was wanting to do was see what would happen for
college, and then college came along and I went to the and[NP4] had some success and
then the pro ball thing and it wasn’t until I was probably 28 years old, when I
was faced with the opportunity of going to Japan and I say there and said, because[NP5] baseball was always
just something I did that I enjoyed and I often on[NP6] a ride came[NP7] to 28 years old and I
was making a decision about going to Japan and all of a sudden it was like, I
would look in the mirror. I’m married. I have a child. I have one on the way.
This is what I’m doing for a living. It wasn’t until I was probably 28 that it
really smacked me in the face that I was actually making a living
doing it, which I think was freeing to some degree, you know?
Kurt: Yeah. Alright, so you made your debut with the Cubs in 2005. By most accounts, I mean, you batted .321 your rookie year, .297 your sophomore year, .281 the following, but by that point you’re getting limited at bats. So some sports writers and some bloggers think that you didn’t quite get a fair shot with the Cubs during the few years that you were here in Chicago and you were an on-base percentage guy. I don’t want to say you were an average hitter, you were a good hitter, hitting for a good average. But it seems like, if I were Dusty Baker. If I were Lou Piniella, I would have slotted you in as the #2 hitter for all of eternity or until you died, whichever came first. Was it a frustrating experience for you that perhaps the organization or the coaches at that time didn’t value you as much as they might value a guy with good OBP?
Matt: You know, look. I think at the end of the day everybody has their story. Right? True[NP8] things in life, both positive and negative and that’s just the way the world is. We live in an imperfect world and so I would be lying to you if I didn’t say at some point it was disappointing. I even go back to 2008 and I didn’t have the best year and a lot of that stemmed from the idea that I had a little bit of a pity party for myself based on circumstances and I wasn’t truly trusting in where I was and what I was supposed to be doing and it was a bigger picture than myself and I was young and you get caught up in these things, but based upon how I performed through that first introduction to Major League Baseball and then in subsequent year by hitting .297, of which to be honest with you man, at the beginning of that year, I wasn’t hitting real well. I mean, opening day was nice. I remember hitting a home run on opening day in Cincinatti off of Aaron Harang to right centerfield there. They called it the Great American Small Park, that’s what called[NP9] it. I didn’t care if it was a small park or not, the ball went out. Hit a home run there, minus that obviously, the beginning of ’06 was a little bit of a slower start. You could say that maybe the league had made some adjustments to me or what not, but from July 1, I think it was, I had good numbers. I had .320 something again from July 1 on with 9 homers, 40-something RBIs, and if you combine that, .320 with 18 or so with 80 some RBIs, that would have looked a lot different than my 13 and 60 something, and even in that year I think I had 400 some odd at bats, and maybe a full year’s worth of 600. Had I gotten those extra 600, what would the home run and RBI production been? Who knows? But at the end of the day, I really believe that I was always fortunate in the game of baseball. Right? I had played in college, competed in high school, played in national tournament. Won it. Played in college, made the college world series, very fortunate to have a lot of success in the game. Was drafted relatively high. Within two years I was in the big leagues and I was succeeding, so I think to some degree, Dusty, great guy by the way, and I really appreciate him, but he felt to some degree the need, more of the old-school, he’s a player’s coach, more of the old-school, that he had to break me in to some degree, and so there was somewhat of an earning it type thing which I was cool with and I say to be quite honest with you, at the end of ’06 I had finally started to gain that respect from him that I kind of done what I needed to quote unquote earn it and then unfortunately, he was let go and so we had a new guy and came[NP10] in and to be frank, I just didn’t fit his perception of what he wanted on the field. I was one of those guys, my greatest asset was my[NP11] to ball ability, and I could make contact and hit balls hard and find a way to get hits, whether it was a swing[NP12] bunt or a line drive in the right centerfield gap or running into one every now and then, I found a way to get hit, and I had a knack and a feel at the plate to do that and that was my great tool. Beyond that, I was quite honestly, good at everything, not exceptional at anything. I was a good baseball player that could really hit, but Lou wanted somebody who either hit a bunch of homers or stole a bunch of bases, so I didn’t fit. Right? I didn’t kind of fit into that so the long and short of it was I kind of got caught in a situation and then we brought in Alfonso[NP13] . It didn’t work out better and then I went to left and then right field and I didn’t play good defense in right. I had never really played out there and I just didn’t play well so I could see why the circumstances led the way they did and to sum it up, disappointing, yes. Was there times if I even wondered if I wanted to keep playing? Yes, because I’m like, “What in the world else do I have to do?” Yet at the same time I believe in my heart of hearts my ability was to hit with anybody. At any level I played I could hit with anybody. However, there was a plan far greater than myself and I really believe in my heart that while that experience of the first six years in the United States was tremendous, everything was set up for me to spend the six years I did in Japan so, looking back on it now, I am blessed. I am thankful. I would have loved to have seen it gone differently in certain respects, but in the other respect in regards to what’s bigger than myself, I know what was[NP14] supposed to go so, to answer your question. Yes and no. Disappointed. Think I could have done a lot more Major League Baseball, yet at the same time I know that there aren’t any mistakes, so I couldn’t be happier with the way things worked out.
Kurt: Let me give some folks some background here. In 2008, you were traded along with some guy named Josh Donaldson, I can’t believe the Cubs actually owned…
Matt: How about that right? He was the quote unquote add-in on that deal. Isn’t that funny?
Kurt: That’s crazy. You’re traded over with the Athletics with him in a couple other guys, in exchange for a couple pitchers. It was Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin I think, something like that. At any rate, Cubs fans have forgotten about those guys. We haven’t forgotten about you though. At any rate…
Matt: I appreciate that.
Kurt: Then you were traded over to Colorado. After that, I was reading up on this, Colorado sold your contract. I didn’t know that’s the way it worked, sold your contract to the Hanshin Tigers over in the Japanese league, so before I ask you about sort of your transition and experience there, tell me what does it mean for a team to sell your contract as opposed to you becoming a free agent?
Matt: I’ll try to keep this short because I can get long-winded. I think you’ve already picked up on that. What happened in 2009 was at the end of the year, Dan O’Dowd called me and he was the GM of the Rockies at the time. He told me, “Look. We have a team who’s interested in you over in Japan. What do you think? We kind of hashed it out. Once we came to the conclusion that we felt, and my wife was the first one to realize this, I was kind of kicking and screaming a little bit, but when we found out and realized and we felt like this is where we were being led to go then Dan O’Dowd engaged them at a deeper level and what we do is we were part of a 40-man roster. I had my writer[NP15] essentially owned by the Rockies, so what the club in Japan asked to do is they had to buy me out, they had to pay the Rockies X amount of dollars to release me to give me the opportunity to go there. Now when the Rockies released me quote unquote they released me and I had to sign me a waiver that the only reason I’m being released is so I can go play and no other team in baseball can pick me up. That’s how it kind of went down. They contacted me. They went through the whole thing, made the decision. They sold my quote unquote contract by the Tigers purchasing me from the Rockies and then I was their property for the next six years in Japan.
Kurt: Gotcha. Now this is where your professional career takes an interesting and great turn. In your rookie year with the Tigers, you hit .349, 17 homers, and 91 RBIs. In that year, not only did you win the batting title, you became the single-season’s hit leader, surpassing none other than Ichiro Suzuki’s hold on that title. That’s amazing.
Kurt: What was the transition like going from the United States, your home, over to a foreign country, and especially one where, at least in Western Europe everyone speaks English as a second language, but over in Japan, I take it that’s not necessarily the case.
Matt: No. The thing that was extremely to get on that plane and take a flight over there and I remember thinking flying from Arizona to California was a long way. We got off that plane and we started flying, I remember watching a movie and reading a little bit of a book, watching another movie and looking down at my watch and thinking we’re not even halfway yet and so there was a little bit of the quote unquote just[NP16] exactly how far it was away that Japan was and you get off a plane and you realize that they’re not speaking your language and it sounds like they’re speaking 50 MPH and there’s symbols everywhere and it’s like “What in the world did I get myself into?” But, yet at the same time there was a plan and there was a purpose and so going over there obviously that first year, I kind of had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. I was, “You know what? I’m excited to be here.” I’ve heard that Japanese baseball is really good and I’ve got an opportunity to go out and show what I think I’m capable of doing in baseball, because up until that point I thought my biggest thing was I just hadn’t had the opportunity. So when I got out there obviously there was a cultural shock to some degree, but I really had a peace about it and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that’s where I was supposed to be. That year, obviously I believed in my abilities, I believed in my talent, I knew I could hit with anybody and I was fortunate enough to be able to show that in that first year. With that being said it was just all the i’s were dotted, all the t’s were crossed. Everything went as you could hope and that wasn’t because of me. It never was. It was far beyond me and just to see how it really, I tell you, I tell people, when I went to that first year and everything went out the way it did and I could go through detail after detail of how things came together but at the end of the year I remember standing and having an opportunity to share just a little bit about my background and who I was and kind of what my quote unquote Western culture was about and I was up there sharing in front of, no exaggeration, 10,000 Japanese people and it just was like a culmination for me of exactly why it was that I was there, and so throughout the whole journey, there was in all sincerity there were some difficult times from here and there, but I had always felt this peace because I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. First year was a great ride and we enjoyed every minute of it.
Kurt; Because I ask you some questions about what you felt was your purpose there, let me get to a couple more here about baseball.
Kurt: I’m curious, how is the game of baseball different between the United States and Japan? What are some of the main features that you noticed were different about the game?
Matt; They take infield everyday. That kind of rocked me out. They stretch for like 45 minutes before they do anything else. That was different. They take batting practice on the field and I’m sure you’ve been to the ballpark where you show up early and there’s the one batting cage on the field, and guys are warming up taking BP. Not in Japan. There’s two cages on the field and balls are going everywhere. There are some definite differences. When you get between[NP17] the line obviously baseball’s still baseball. I think the biggest difference I saw was, from a hitting standpoint, was the fact that the American game is predicated on getting hitters out in three pitches or less, and when you went to Japan, in a sense here in the United States, they pitch to contact. They allow their sink, their movement, whatever it is, and that’s changing a little bit now because of strikeout rates increasing and balls aren’t being put in play like they used to play, but it was sinkers and sliders, get the ball thrown and get it out, let’s get the game moving. Let’s save our pitch count. You go to Japan and it’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s all, like, let’s try to get them to swing and miss. Let’s throw pitches that start as strikes and finish as balls and pitches that start as balls and finish as strikes and so they’re not afraid to walk you. They’re not afraid to go deep in the count. They’re not afraid to throw a 3-1 to[NP18] the dirt just to see if you’re going to swing.
Kurt: On a 3-1 pitch?
Matt: 3-1 Split in the dirt. I’m like, are you serious? I remember there was this situation at one point, the game, obviously in a baseball game the score situation will dictate how the pitcher will attack hitters basically. I remember being in this situation late in the game and it’s like an eight or nine-run differential, and there’s a runner on 1st and 2nd with one out and it wasn’t just me. Okay? This was routine. Certain hitters had out more, but I remember getting a 3-1 slider in the dirt and I was like loaded bases with one out and a run[NP19] . What are you doing? I tell you, there were times where it was extremely effective. I think that was the greatest difference, and just my approach and how I had to, I remember Ryan Spilborghs, used to play for the Rockies, he came over to play and we would talk and I said, “If anything, what you have to do is reverse the counts. When you are ahead in the count, think more defensively, and when you are behind the count think more offensively.” So just the pitching style and how they attack hitters I would say is the single greatest difference.
Kurt: Alright, so initially you were signed to just play for a year there in Japan. Right?
Kurt: But you ultimately decided to stick around. What was the reasoning for that?
Matt: Okay. So after my first year I had one year with the club options. Basically, I had no say in the matter. After the first year, which went pretty well, they decided that[NP20] back for year two. After the 2011 season I had a decision to make and at that point in time, I was 30 years old, I had just completed my 29 year-old season, and at 30 I was still at an age where the possibility to come home was there and there were a few teams that were actually interested in bringing me back, but when I came back it was going to be on a one-year deal and the amount of money that I was going to receive was great money in the big picture, but it wasn’t a commitment from an organization that would say, “Hey. You’re our guy.” In other words, you’re coming back under this pretense that you still have to earn it. You know what I’m saying?
Matt: And at that time the club in Japan had offered us a two-year guaranteed contract and they were gonna offer us significantly more money than what we would receive in Major League Baseball and with a young family and where we were, it was just one of those things that was kind of obvious. Not only that from a financial standpoint, but I remember having a conversation with a guy named Brian Hommel, who was the chaplain for the Arizona Diamondbacks, and we were out there doing a clinic for kids and at the end of the clinic we had an opportunity to share a little bit more about our faith and being out there and we were in the car and we were he talking about this. Should I go back to the U.S. and try to get the opportunity to play in Major League Baseball again with a guaranteed MLB one-year contract. He looked at me and he said, “Matt. Don’t take this the wrong way, but we got plenty of athletes in the U.S. who are willing to speak on their faith. Over here in Japan, this doesn’t happen. There’s less than 1% of the population is accepting of who Jesus Christ is and there’s not a whole lot of voice over there for the kingdom and he’s like, if you put all the money aside, put everything aside, kingdom perspective, this is really in my heart where you’re supposed to be.”
Kurt: That’s where you should be.
Matt: That’s where we were. So we ended up signing for another few years. We came to the end of that and I think at that time I was going to be 32 and it was another good contract in front of me and…
Kurt: Let’s do it again.
Matt: Another[NP21] one year with an option. That’s right. One year with an option. After the 2014 season I had teams calling again, giving me a legitimate, I won the batting title in 2014. I had another really good year and there were some teams willing to give me a shot to come back, but still[NP22] had an option on me for fifteen and they obviously exercised based it on my performance, and that’s what took us all the way through the six years there in Japan. It was just one little step led to another and six years later, we looked back, we went over there for one year, thinking we’d go over there and prove ourselves and come back and play Major League Baseball, and obviously my plans are never what it ends up being. Six years later we look back on it and we loved every minute of it.
Kurt: Yeah. What are some of your fondest memories of being in Japan?
Matt: People. The relationships and some of the people stay[NP23] in contact which has been cool. Just being in the stadium. When you’re in Wrigley Field, I always remember there were things that kind of stood out. The smell of the ballpark when you step out of the dugout. As random as this is, I remember I think it was the team of would[NP24] kind of make that sound where they would hit the side of their thing and you’d hear the bang and that sound resonates with me at Wrigley Field. The sounds, the smells, all of that resonates and so when I was in Japan, I was very fortunate to play with an organization that was much like the Cubs/Red Sox, whatever you want to call it, and passion of the fan base was there, we averaged over 40,000 people a night at their games, so you can just kind of sit down and I remember being in the outfield looking around and thinking how amazing it was to have an opportunity to play in that environment in a foreign country and that the waving of the flags, which is almost like an international soccer field, and all those things, just the memories of being on the field, obviously the people, the memories of being on the field and the food, getting to experience a new culture in regards to not only how they do life but their food and everything. There’s a long list of things I did enjoy about being over there. A lot of fun.
Kurt: Nice. Awesome. I’m here chatting with Matt Murton and we’ve got to take a short break here. If you’ve got a question for Matt or a comment or you want to say hi to him. Give us a call. The number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. Stick with us through this short break from our sponsors.
Kurt: Alright. Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. Again, I’m here with former professional baseball player Matt Murton and today we’re talking about his experiences, journey, his story, and how he has been gifted with these certain talents and how he’s used these talents and, now before we get into continuing that discussion, we want to have a segment of the show awhile back, we might be bringing it back here called Rapid Questions. Matt’s agreed to be quizzed on this so Matt, we’ve got twenty-one questions so it’s very unlikely we’ll get through all of them and in fact I’m going to skip #6 which is asking you about your favorite sport. I think everyone could figure that out. We’re going to start the game clock here and you’re going to try to answer as many as you can. Are you ready?
Matt: I’m ready.
Kurt: Alright. Here we go. What is your clothing store of choice?
Kurt: Taco Bell or
Matt: Taco Bell.
Kurt: What school did you go to?
Matt: Westminster Academy and then I went to Georgia Tech in college.
Kurt: Where would you like to live?
Matt: Nashville, Tennessee. That’s where I’m at now.
Kurt: What kind of razor do you use?
Matt: Cheapest I can find. Schick.
Kurt: What’s your spouse’s favorite holiday?
Kurt: What fruit would you say your head is shaped like?
Matt: Oh my gosh. Apple.
Kurt: What’s your most hated sports franchise?
Matt: Apple is red right. What’s the next one?
Kurt: Most hated sports franchise.
Matt: Oh geez. Why not the Yankees. Right?
Kurt: Good choice. Do you drink Dr. Pepper?
Matt: Of course, I do.
Kurt: Good man. Which celebrity are you most like?
Matt: Oh my goodness. Celebrity that I’m the most like.
Kurt: Maybe a doppleganger?
Matt: Maybe Carrot Head
Kurt: Carrot Head. That’s great.
Matt: There you go. Or maybe Conan. Right?
Kurt: There you go. Yeah. Nice. Great. Awesome. Thank you for playing a round of Rapid Questions.
Matt: No problem man.
Kurt: Before the break we were talking about your experience. Through your upbringing, your recognizing that baseball, you were really good at it. You’re focusing on it as your vocation. And of course, your debut with the Chicago Cubs being with them a few years and then moving around a little bit and then ultimately settling in Japan for six years. Last year, perhaps some don’t know this about you, last year you came back to the MLB and played for the Iowa Cubs. What was your experience in thinking that you wanted to sort of have a comeback here?
Matt: I’d always said that that’s kind of what I wanted to do and I really am a firm believer in continuing to complete what’s before you until it becomes obvious that that door’s closing, to be just frank you, at six years, I was actually the longest tenured foreign position player in the club history, six years with the one team. It’s not completely common for teams to keep foreign hitters around. You usually see three-four years, maybe. So six years was a really good run with them. I think part of it is they get tired of seeing foreigners on the field everyday. They’re just very proud of their heritage and their culture which they should be and they want to see Japanese players. They want something new and obviously the better we play, the more our salary rises and it gets to the point where they just usually let us go so a six-year run was really good for me there. I came to the end of that year, contract was up, and it was whether or not I wanted to try different[NP25] city and accept a lot less pay than what I was receiving at the time or was God closing that door and making it an opportunity to come back to the United States that’s[NP26] kind of what we felt so we felt like our time with the Tigers was amazing. We really didn’t want to go anywhere else, because that was home to us, and what better way to come back to the United States than with the Chicago Cubs when the opportunity came up? So, we couldn’t pass on it and we just figured, “What the heck? Let’s just see what happens.”
Kurt: See what happens. Nice. I like it. So you’re a few years older than I am and I guess you’re probably outside of the millennial generation. I was the type of kid that I would always get the participation trophies. Didn’t know why I was getting a trophy. We never won the championship except when I was 13 years old, but always got that trophy no matter what. In your career, you’ve had to learn, perhaps with more lows than highs, you know, whether you were designated for assignment or being traded, so what advice do you have for young folks who might be dealing with disappointment in their careers?
Matt: I think more than anything, I think the first step is realizing that no matter who you are, there are going to be disappointments in life. Some are more apparent than others and for some people, it doesn’t seem as if they’re dealing with things as often as others, but first and foremost, we’re all going to deal with them. So, I think coming from that conclusion is important and then moving from there it was always one of those things where at the end of the day you have to believe in yourself and you have to believe in what you’re trying to accomplish and you can’t let other people define you and so for the longest time, I always said that baseball is what I did. It wasn’t who I was. Baseball never was supposed to define who I was. For me, and I’ve touched on a little bit, I grew up in a home where I was in church and I came to a saving knowledge of who our creator God Jesus Christ was and for me there’s a lot of freedom in that because I won’t tell you that there weren’t times when in and of myself I wasn’t frustrated, I wasn’t disappointed, because that was surely the case, but it was a way for me to kind of deal with those things, was knowing that there was a bigger plan and I can go back and look at 2008, one of the toughest years mentally, emotionally, I didn’t know if I wanted to play baseball anymore. I remember even breaking down in my car and kind of crying. “What in the world am I supposed to do? I’ve done everything in this sport that I can do and I’m still not getting the opportunity.” Then I stood on the stage in 2010, speaking to 10,000 Japanese people and I remember thinking back to 2008 and realizing just how foolish I was because I wasn’t trusting. Any advice I would have to someone who is is[NP27] that you’re not the only one, that there are others like you. You’re not in it by yourself.
Secondly, for me as a believer, is the idea that I knew there was a greater plan even though I didn’t always want to trust that, I knew in my hearts of hearts conceptually that there was a greater plan and that thirdly, if we just give it time, it often, we will see, we don’t always, sometimes maybe we won’t see it in this lifetime, but we will find out why things were happening the way they did so perseverance is key, believing things are happening for a reason, even though it’s not comfortable, sometimes the most uncomfortable moments provide us with the most amazing moments in jubilation on the backside of it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that. When I was going through it, it wasn’t the easiest, but I would just, I guess to sum it up I would say, believe and trust knowing that you’re not the only one going through it and you’ve just got to find a way to persevere and stick it out and in the end it’ll find a way of working itself out.
Kurt: Great. Good advice. In my humble opinion, you are a stellar hitter. Only so many people on the planet can hit a 90+ MPH fastball and get on base three to four times out of ten at-bats. What does it mean to dedicate oneself to a craft?
Matt: Again, it kind of goes back to the same thing and you have to realize you’ve got to accept failure. That’s what I love about baseball and I still love about baseball, I love about the sport, the idea that all the life principles teaches you and some of those being the fact that failure in our sport, baseball, is prevalent. If three times out of ten and seven times you’re going back to the judgment and you haven’t quote unquote succeeded. I think more than anything it’s the idea when you’re committing to a craft you’re going to accept failure that there’s nothing that will get between where I’m at and where I’m going to go and what I mean by that is the best way to do that is to live in the moment. So when I’m in the moment and I am competing in the moment or I am loving people in the moment or whatever it is, I’m trying to be the best at what I’m doing right now. I knew that in order to do that one thing my Dad always taught me was that you don’t have to play, but if you play you’re going to do it the right way. If it was just thirty games or whatever it was, it was dedicating myself to whatever it was I was trying to accomplish and living in the moment to be the best that I could. I think that’s what it means to dedicate yourself to a craft. You have to have the big picture and yet at the same time with the big picture you realize all that comes with that, but if you worry about all of those things in the moment, you’re not going to succeed. It’s just taking it one step at a time, walking and trusting by faith and then allowing it to kind of unfold. Going back and I look back on my quote unquote story or how baseball kind of unfolded for me. To be honest, the best way to sum it up was to take one step and to put one foot in front of the other and here I am at 35 years old, fortunate to have played fourteen years professionally and I couldn’t be more blessed or thankful for how it went.
Kurt: Nice. You’ve talked a little bit about this thus far, so you’re a follower of the Way, at least as the book of Acts tells us, and by that I’m not referring to the Japanese philosophy of Taoism which that’s what it’s translated into, Way, but rather you are a follower of Jesus Christ. How long have you been a Christian and what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?
Matt: I accepted Christ at the age of six. Like I had mentioned, I grew up in a Christian home. I was in the church from the day I was born and I was made aware of my sinful nature. I think the best way to put it, there’s a few things that I always try to share. First and foremost, I think if you ask anybody, they would probably admit to the fact that they’re not perfect and that they make mistakes. With that being said, if we always rely on ourselves and ourselves only, then we’re going to find a way to jack it up unfortunately more often than we want to. Certainly when we talk about faith, we look back in our history books and whatever it is and people tell us about Christopher Columbus or whatever or we go downtown somewhere and we see this old structure that was built. We didn’t see that structure built. We didn’t see the bricklayers or the people running the piping or whatever it was, but there the building is. Right? We have faith to believe that somebody put it there, and when you look at the world that we live in, just to think that it just appeared or just somehow is just here is kind of difficult for me to kind of wrap my mind around. Being a Christian to me is the accepting of something greater than yourself, knowing that in and of yourself that you are going to jack it up and you’re going to make mistakes and that following Jesus is a relationship and so many people want to make Jesus Christ a religious cultural obligation or whatever it is. Our only obligation is to love as Christ loved us and that is our obligation is to care for other people and accept Jesus and accept Him and believe in Him. It says in John 3:16 that God so loved the world that whoever believeth in Him shall not perish and not have everlasting life, and the key thing there is for God so loved the world, number one, so it’s for all people. #2, all we have to do is believe. In and of ourselves, if it’s about us and what we’re going to accomplish, we have already admitted to the fact that we’re going to jack it up, so to me, it’s having that faith. It’s loving people the way Christ did. It’s following Him and to some people maybe that are listening or maybe they’ve never heard that before, but first of all Jesus Christ loves you and He died for you. People will sometimes say, “I don’t know what that means.” Trust me. I promise you. If you come to a saving faith of who Jesus Christ is, you’ll never want to give him back. You’ll never return Him and it’s just this freedom inside of you that makes you feel like you can accomplish anything and that’s one of the reasons why I came back. It doesn’t make sense. At 35 years old, 34 years old, to come back to the United States? But I knew if it was God’s intention that He would move mountains and He would do whatever He had to do it for it to happen, and if He didn’t, and even if He didn’t, that it was follow[NP28] what he has for me. To me, that sums up what being a Christian is.
Kurt: Let me say two things on that. You’re right. It’s not only a cultural thing that we should call ourselves Christians. It’s not like, “Oh yeah. I went to church first.” It’s not even, “I said this prayer once”, because when we have faith in Christ that lives itself out in our lives with how we treat others and bearing the fruit of the spirit. Secondly, I love the way that you phrased that about if it didn’t work out. In the book of Daniel, you’ve got the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. King Nebuchadnezzar throws them in the fiery furnace. A lot of people miss this though. They say they’re going to pray that their God, YHWH, save them, but then they also say this. They say, “But even if He doesn’t, we won’t bow down to you.” And so it’s totally right that even if things don’t work out the way we might think God might work, that’s not going to change our beliefs. We’re still going to be faithful to Him. That’s great. I love the way you phrase that. We’ve had a patient caller here. Matt. I’ve got a few more questions here, but let’s take a call here from James. James. Thanks for coming on the show today.
James: What’s going on. Hey Kurt. How are you doing?
Kurt: Good. How are you? You got a comment or question for Matt?
James: Yeah. How are you doing Matt? I’ve been a long time college friend. University[NP29] over here. What do you think your greatest achievement was as a Cub besides getting called up?
Matt: That’s a great question. You know what? I would want to say that my greatest achievement was the opportunity to develop relationships and what not, and that’s exactly how I feel in my heart, but I know what you’re looking for, probably something a little bit more tangible and, I would say there were a few moments that I really recall that really stood out to me as a player. Obviously, my debut was prety cool. in[NP30] Florida and being able to come up with a base hit my first day was pretty sweet. I remember scoring the winning run, I believe it was in 2007 at was, when we took first place ran[NP31] down and we were all jumping around and having a good time. We had a team first place that point, that was pretty special, and I think one of the other ones that kind of stands out in my mind was in Houston actually we were facing in[NP32] the ninth inning of a game that I actually pinch-hit in. Hit a home run to tie the game and then ended up getting and[NP33] we won it in the 15th or 16th inning. I came off the bench and there were four bats at base. Lastly, one of the other ones that was a great accomplishment and I guess it would have to be my greatest accomplishment from a personal standpoint was a day I had four doubles, kind of a major league record at Wrigley Field against I believe it was the Arizona Diamondbacks. I think those all stand out. Teamwise, first place, home run to tie a game and then end winning it and then obviously the four doubles. Now listen. We won’t tell people that one of those doubles was because of the Wrigley Field sun in right field. We won’t tell people that. We’ll just go ahead and believe it to be four balls[NP34] in the gap. think[NP35] it was Carlos Clinton actually, the Wrigley Field, when the sun is setting there and late in the game it can get pretty difficult. I think you have a hard time finding it and the next thing you know I was on second base. I had a lot of great memories from being a Cub. I appreciate you calling.
James: Thanks, Man. Thank you Kurt for letting me call in.
Kurt: Awesome. Thanks for listening in and calling in James. Take care.
James: Take care.
Kurt: Alright. Matt, I’ve got a couple other questions here about your faith. How did your faith in Christ and perhaps we could also say the counseling of the Holy Spirit, help you along your journey through those highs and lows?
Matt: Yeah. More than anything it’s just, again going back, I guess some of the things I’m repeating is the idea that as a believer in Christ you know that ultimately a lot of things, I feel it’s our duty to show up. I think it’s our duty to work extremely hard. I think it’s our duty to play hard, to work hard, whatever it is, we’re doing life unto the glory of God and with that being said, in regards to the high and lows, it’s so freeing. It’s the freedom of the Spirit, that apart from me in John it says you can do nothing. Just knowing that as long as I stay connected to Jesus Christ as He is connected to the Father that at the end of the day, no matter what the circumstance is, that it will be for His glory and at the end of the day it will make sense to Him and in a kingdom eternal perspective, because there’s going to be things on this Earth and this world that doesn’t make sense to us. There’s going to be things that break our heart. There’s going to be disappointment. There’s going to be times when things aren’t going well, and yet at the same time, people ask me, “Where do you get the hope? It’s kind of a hopeless situation.” The hope you[NP36] know what? I don’t have to figure every last bit of this out. I’m going to trust that[NP37] He’s got this taken care of. I’m going to just let myself fall into His loving arms and He’s gonna make a way where there seems to be no way. To me, that’s where the freedom comes. That’s where the highs and the lows. I remember sitting on the bench in 2010 about to break Ichiro Suzuki’s record and there were all kinds of media people and there was so much attention on me and I remember sitting there and being extremely humbled by the fact that God had put me in that position. I still to this day feel as if some of my best spiritual moments, some of them were on the field at Wrigley.
Matt: Right? And there were people that would paint their chest with my letters. Murton would be out there in the bleachers and I would do definite something actually decently in the field and they would be chanting Murton or something, and I remember those[NP38] moments and feeling sense[NP39] of the Spirit and I would tell myself, “Lord. They’re singing your name. Lord. Let this be a reflection who you are.” There was this overwhelming feeling knowing that no matter what it was, that[NP40] it was all about what He wanted and how this would glorify His name and so there was the freedom and both the highs and the lows. It’s just trusting in the fact that He had it all figured out.
Kurt: Okay. Now in
Japan, only about 1% of the population is Christian. You’ve already mentioned
this one time you had, you were able to sort of present the message to about
10,000 people. What other sort of opportunities did you have in Japan
to share the Good News?
Matt: Sure. I always felt like it was important that when we were given a platform to use it the way it would be intended to be used. I heard in an interview here recently, I think Derek Carr, quarterback for the Oakland Raiders.
Kurt: He’s giving his tithe!
Matt: Yeah, dude. That was a pretty special interview. I would encourage people to watch it if they haven’t seen it already. I think that defines kind of what our opportunity is as athletes. I don’t think that in anyway we’re any different or special than anybody else. I think we’ve just been given a talent and been given a platform to use and so when I was in Japan, I had wished that the time in Chicago would have lasted longer to get a lot more involved there. It just didn’t work out, but once I was in Japan and I got settled in there, I realized there was that platform, that opportunity, I got involved in a lot of different levels. I spent time obviously in the hospitals with the kids who were sick. We did stuff with the deal[NP41] . People may not recall in 2011 there was a great earthquake in the Sendai region which had a big tsunami. There was a lot of relief work that had to be done. Amazingly enough, there were people that didn’t have enough rice which is obviously a staple there for food. We went up, there were some projects, and made sure there was enough rice for people to have. We got into detention centers with kids, spent time with them, and then did clinics and outreach. We managed to spend time with the homeless and feeding the homeless and stuff so there was a lot of really cool opportunities during the time period that I was there to share to businessmen, you know, had a platform to share to the businessmen and in a Japanese culture, the men very much fulfill the kind of the focal point of the culture and they spend a lot of time at work. There was just a number of things where the doors were just opened to be able to participate in and it was just a lot of fun to be a part of it.
Kurt: Nice. Alright. Is there one more comeback for Matt Murton? What else are you doing with yourself these days?
Matt: That’s funny. So when I got done playing April 17, it was actually my last game was on Easter Sunday, my last swing of the bat was a line drive off the right-field wall and I turned first base and I ended up staying at first. I jokingly say Easter Sunday was my last game and my kids ran the bases and I came around first base and my guy over there was telling me hold. So I said there were two things. #1. When you hit first base on a ball off the wall and you don’t get to second, maybe that’s a sign that it’s coming to a close? #2. I guess for the first time I was quote unquote relieved, the 17th, and the guy that was having to give me a paperwork I had to file. I asked him, “Do you mind if I take a picture of this for documentation[NP42] ?” “I know that’s kind of an odd request. Most quite[NP43] upset that I was trying to love people and take a picture and document whatever just about my career so my brother are[NP44] you taking pictures of your release statement probably means[NP45] .Between taking pictures of my release statement and getting stuck on first base off the right wall, pretty good chance that baseball has come to a close. With that being said, not[NP46] the same guy I was. 27[NP47] or 28 years old obviously, but my last I[NP48] remember facing I[NP49] know in my hearts of hearts There[NP50] wasn’t a lot of great opportunities You[NP51] know what? I think it’s time to go over[NP52] ,but the other day, we’re going through Cleveland, we’re going through Cincinatti, I was telling the kids, to[NP53] left centerfield and thought it was a home run and it hit the top of the wall and my son, my oldest son looked at me and “Goes. Dad. Were you running?” and I said, “Yes. I was running.” I think it’s I[NP54] can still do it, so I told my wife should I and[NP55] should I go to the Dominican and play ball[NP56] ? , but with that being said, I don’t think it’s going to happen, and right now I’ve literally been trying to slow down. Trying to find out exactly what that looks like. I do know that I probably want to spend baseball[NP57] . I want to be involved some ministry stuff. one[NP58] day at a time. Kind of see what unfolds[NP59]
Kurt: Nice. Awesome. Matt. It’s been a real pleasure to hear about your journey, your story, and how God has used you, not just here in the States, but over in Japan, for His kingdom purposes. It’s been really wonderful to hear your story of the journey. Thanks for coming on the show today.
Matt: Awesome man, Kurt. Thanks a lot. I appreciate it. I enjoyed every minute of it.
Kurt: God bless and hopefully maybe we’ll bring you on again sometime in the future.
Matt: Awesome. Thank you so much.
Kurt: Of course. Take care. Bye-bye. Alright. That does it for our show today. If you’ve enjoyed listening to this episode and you want to hear other stories of the journey, you can go to our website, Veracityhill.com, and search through the episodes to see other stories of the journey and also coming up next week we’re going to be talking with Dr. Bob Stewart of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. We’re going to be talking about whether Jesus really is the only way to heaven. Is He the only way for salvation? I am grateful for the continued support of our patrons. Those are folks that just chip in a few bucks a month to help this podcast move along and we’d love to get your support whether it’s $20 a month, $10 a month, even $5 a month, we’d love to get your support. Just go to the website veracityhill.com and click the patron tab. I’m also grateful for the partnerships that we have with our sponsors. Defenders Media. Consult Kevin. The Sky Floor. Rethinking Hell. The Illinois Family Institute. Evolution 2.0, and Ratio Christi. And last but not least, I want to thank you for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.
[NP1]Unsure around 5:55
[NP2]Check sentence around 6:30
[NP4]Unclear where he went at 12:10
[NP5]Cut out at 12:15
[NP6]Breaking at 12:20
[NP8]Couldn’t hear over Kurt around 14:05
[NP11]Unsure of term at 17:00
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[NP13]Check at 17:40
[NP14]Unclear at 18:25
[NP15]Check at 20:20
[NP18]Couldn’t understand at 26:00
[NP19]Unclear at 26:45
[NP20]Kurt laughing and bad static around 27:35. Couldn’t tell what was said
[NP21]Couldn’t hear over Kurt
[NP23]Staticky and unclear at 30:40
[NP24]Unclear at 31:00
[NP25]Static at 38:30
[NP26]Static at 38:40
[NP27]Static at 41:45
[NP28]Static at 48:40
[NP30]James and Matt talk over each other around 50:50. Hard to understand some aftewards
[NP33]James spoke over Matt around 51:20
[NP34]Unclear at 52:00
[NP35]Kurt laughing and James as well and Matt couldn’t be heard
[NP36]Staticky at 53:55
[NP37]Static at 54:00
[NP38]Unclear at 55:00
[NP40]Cut out at 55:15
[NP41]Unsure at 56:45
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