In terms of life-changing experiences, Matt Childers can't begin to compare signing his first major-league contract to his first year of marriage and fatherhood.
"The contract hasn't changed anything," said the former Westside High star, who was taken by the Brewers in the ninth round of the 1997 draft and added to the club's 40-man roster last winter.
"Getting married and starting a family has been a very big change for me; a change for the better. It's been so much fun and exciting having a wife and being able to watch our son grow."
For the 22-year-old Childers, the past year has been filled with milestones and memorable moments.
While playing for the Class A Mudville Nine last season, Childers married longtime girlfriend Francesca on July 26 on the pitcher's mound at Billy Hebert Field in Stockton, Calif., home of the Class A Stockton Ports, during an off-day for the team.
In November, the couple celebrated the birth of their son, Will, then celebrated inking a major-league deal with the Brewers a few days later.
Earlier this year, the hard-throwing right-hander attended his first big-league spring training in Arizona, appearing in relief for the Brewers in two exhibition games against the White Sox and Mariners. He later was assigned to High Desert, the Brewers' new high-Class A affiliate in the California League.
One of the highlights this spring was facing future hall of famer Harold Baines, designated hitter for the White Sox.
"It was pretty exciting, and I actually popped him up," Childers said. "The whole experience was awesome. I was able to pick some of the guys' brains a bit. I tried to be real observant and quiet, and just payed attention to what those guys were saying and doing."
Despite a joyful year on a personal level and the excitement of his first taste of the big leagues, Childers endured a rough first half with High Desert. He is 5-9 with a 6.48 ERA in 17 starts, allowing 131 hits in 98 2/3 innings.
After earning a trip to the Midwest League All-Star Game last year while with Class A Beloit (Wisc.), Childers says he is disappointed with his results in 2001.
"I definitely wanted to prove I belonged on the 40-man, and the numbers aren't where I want them to be," Childers said. "But I think I've improved a lot mentally as far as pitch selection, and my last four starts I've felt like I've made a lot of progress locating my fastball and working the inside and outside of the plate better."
The 6-foot-5, 195-pound Childers recently added a slider to his repertoire, which includes a fastball clocked in the 93- to 94-mph range, an above-average curveball and developing change-up.
High Desert manager Frank Kremblas, who was at Mudville last season, said he thinks Childers' numbers are deceiving.
"Early in the year, he had a streak where he didn't pitch horrible, but it seemed like everyone who hit the ball found a hole, or if Matt made a mistake, they hit out of park," Kremblas said. "Sometimes, the wind blows out at our park so hard, it's ridiculous.
"But his past six or seven starts, he's been a different guy." Kremblas added. "He's a little more of a mature pitcher now. Last year, he came up kind of throwing the ball and really wasn't pitching. He still gets into that sometimes because he's such a competitor and tries to blow balls past guys. But he's learning how to be more of a pitcher now. I think he's right on track."
Childers' progress is reflected in his numbers the past month. He is 2-2 with a 2.72 ERA in his past five starts, and is planning on a strong finish to build momentum for the jump to Double-A Huntsville (Ala.) next season.
"You can never project in baseball what's going to happen, but I'm planning on being (in Double-A) next season," said Childers, whose older brother and fellow Brewers farmhand, Jason, is having an all-star season at Huntsville. "I haven't heard yet, but I hope to pitch in Arizona (instructional league) in the fall, and just keep on getting better."
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Name: Matt Childers|
High school: Westside
Drafted: Milwaukee Brewers, seventh round, 1997
Current team: High Desert Mavericks (High Class A-California League)
2001 stats: 5-9, 6.48 ERA, 17 starts, 98 2/3 innings, 131 hits, 27 walks, 67 strikeouts