Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, August 18, 1999

P R O F E S S I O N A L _ B A S E B A L L

Wheeler finally gets
call for pro ball

By Al Chase


Matt Wheeler endured the hot summer in Gardnerville, Nev., aware that his dream of getting an opportunity to play professional baseball was rapidly cooling as fall approached.

He stayed in shape by pitching for a local amateur team. If there was a tryout, he was there. A Braves scout watched him throw. Then there was the baseball scouting bureau tryout, more tosses for a Florida Marlins scout and tryouts with Sonoma Country Crushers and Reno Blackjacks of the independent Western League.

The story was the same each time and the former Hawaii Rainbows' frustration level went up a notch each time.

"They all said the same thing. If we had seen you sooner .... but our rosters are full right now. I pretty much had given up," Wheeler said.

Actually, the 6-foot, 190-pound right-hander had just finished packing to head back to Hawaii to complete his degree requirements in the fall semester, when he received the long-awaited call.

Evansville manager Greg Tagert telephoned two weekends ago to let Wheeler know there might be a spot for him on the Otters' roster. Two days later, Tagert called back to ask Wheeler if he could fly to Indiana last Wednesday and join the team.

Wheeler arrived Thursday, signed a contract and saw his first action in the independent Frontier League the next day, although it definitely was not planned.

"Our starting pitcher hit the second Chillicothe batter in the first inning. He charged the mound. There was a bench-clearing brawl and our pitcher was ejected," Wheeler said. "Tagert told me to go in there."

Hired as a middle reliever and spot starter, Wheeler went 6-2/3 innings, allowed five hits and three earned runs and was credited with the win. He walked five and struck out seven. He had allowed just three hits and one run until he gave up a leadoff homer and double to start the eighth inning.

"I kept telling my dad all summer that I want to go somewhere and then they can tell me I'm not good enough," Wheeler said. "I didn't want it to end with tryouts. I wanted to get that chance."

He is scheduled to start later this week. The Otters are tied for first place in the West Division. With 18 regular-season games left and the playoffs (top three teams in each division qualify), Wheeler has postponed his return to Hawaii. Who knows what this opportunity will lead to in the future?

After losing his job as the starting third baseman with the 1999 Rainbows, Wheeler pitched in seven games, two as a starter. He was 1-1 in 16-1/3 innings, with a 3.31 earned run average. He walked three and struck out 12.

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