Through ups and downs, Baysox reliever has understood the meaning of identity.
Mill Creek High School in Hoschton, Georgia, has an approximate enrollment of 3,780 students, which places it within the 100 largest high schools in the nation and the second largest in the Empire State of the South (per a 2011 article).
Baysox RHP Matthew Grimes entered such a large high school just a couple years after moving with his family from about 10 miles up the road. A whirlwind of an environment marked the setting for young Grimes to attempt to find his bearings and settle in to this new situation.
“(Hoschton)’s a small town, located outside of a very big town, (so) you get the best of both worlds there,” said Grimes. “I was going to a new middle school that had just opened up (and) was in one of the first classes to go through 7th and 8th grade.
“(MCHS) was massive. Getting to classes was impossible because there were so many people. You could see someone new every day, too. It was like a small college campus.”
Thankfully for Grimes, there was athletics to provide a relatively smooth transition into high school life.
“That was just how we grew up,” said Grimes. “I enjoyed baseball and I was good at it. I first played when I was six years old, and I started pitching when I was about 10. I started playing travel ball at 12 or 13 and started pitching regularly, and that’s when it started taking off for me.”
Athletics surrounded the Grimes household. Matthew’s sister, Brittany, played basketball and ran track. His dad, Damon, was a member of the Western Kentucky University men’s basketball team that went to the Round of 32 in the 1976 NCAA tournament.
“He’d still kick my butt in basketball,” said Grimes. “I did still have some varsity starts in 10th grade, though, so I was proud of that.”
Baseball was a relatively new sport for the Grimes family, but the support and care for Matthew’s journey was never wavering.
“It was new for everyone, but I’m fortunate that my parents supported me and invested in me,” said Grimes. “I did pitching lessons that helped out tremendously, learning how to pitch. As a little kid, the biggest thing is throwing the ball with proper mechanics. You’re not as concerned with where it’s going, but rather how your arm is moving and moving it in the right direction.”
Pitching went well for Grimes, who received the Gwinnett County Pitcher of the Year award following his senior season in 2010 after posting a 1.32 ERA for the Hawks and becoming just one of four pitchers in the county’s history to tally 100 strikeouts in a single season.
This success got him noticed by the Chicago White Sox, but he ultimately decided to head about an hour down the road to Atlanta and the Georgia Institute of Technology.
“I committed to Georgia Tech my junior year of high school,” said Grimes. “I wanted to go to Georgia Tech and go get a good education. Head Coach (Danny Hall) had been there for 20 years or so and there wasn’t a lot of turnover among the coaching staff. My sister also went there and it was close to home.”
Grimes began his career on the Flats on a high note, going 7-4 as the weekday starter, striking out 77 batters in 73.2 innings and earned a 2-1 record over the rival Bulldogs from Athens.
The college career, however, took a negative turn as an arm injury sidelined Grimes for the second half of the 2012 season. He received a medical redshirt, subsequently landing him in the dugout for the entire 2013 campaign.
“That is the toughest part of injuries. You go from prospect to suspect really quick,” said Grimes. “You learn a lot about yourself and maybe that’s a good thing. For some, baseball is their identity. When you have that taken away from you, then who are you when it’s not about baseball?
“I went through that, but it was good. I don’t regret it. Baseball is only going to be there for so long. It doesn’t define me as a person. It is a huge part of my life, but I’d rather live the right way, treat people well and do the right thing rather than having the greatest career out there. That’s more meaningful to me.”
Lots of patience, rehab and preparation to get back in game shape paid off for the righty, as the Baltimore Orioles selected Grimes in the 18th round of the 2014 draft.
“I was thrilled,” said Grimes. “I remember specifically that it was a Saturday. The Orioles picked me up and it was awesome because it was close to home, so I was happy about that. The Orioles have a good reputation, so I was super excited, but it was a quick turnaround.
“I was gone on Monday and went down to Sarasota for orientation. My head was just spinning. It was something totally different. I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t know what to expect, but I’ve met a lot of cool guys and it’s been cool ever since.”
Grimes has matriculated up the Orioles’ minor league ladder since arriving in Sarasota, earning 10 wins as a starter for Class-A Delmarva in 2015 and striking out 91 batters in both 2015 and 2016. The process of mastering his arsenal and understanding the mental side of pitching has helped Grimes advance to Double-A Bowie.
“I’d like to think I’m more knowledgeable about attacking guys with fastballs, locating the fastballs and being more affective with my pitches now than I was when I first got into the system,” said Grimes. “With all the pitching coordinators and coaches we have, I’ve been fine-tuning my mechanics and learning when to throw different pitches.
It’s definitely helped me out being more efficient with my delivery. That’s been huge. If I’m coming out of the bullpen, I know I have a certain situation and I know what pitches I need to throw to get through that situation.”
It’s no secret that Grimes has experienced many ups and downs en route to the 2018 season with the Baysox. Each offseason, he returns to his hometown of Hoschton to pass on his knowledge and wisdom to the young baseball minds in the area. There’s a lot to pass down, but Grimes chooses to keep it simple.
“I want them to have fun and keep baseball fun,” said Grimes. “It starts turning into a business, but I want kids to have fun and keep things loose. I want them to throw strikes, but I want them to be efficient so that they are not hurting their arms. I’ve dealt with injuries in my time. I don’t want that happening to anyone else.”