The 2017 season begins today for many minor league baseball players, but Matthew Shepherd will not be among them.
The former Sullivan East High School standout retired in January after five seasons as a pitcher in the professional ranks.
“It was an experience of a lifetime and something that I will never forget,” Shepherd said. “The people I met and the lifelong friendships that I created is something that I will cherish for a lifetime. I got to live my dream for five years. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I gave it my all and in the end it wasn’t quite good enough to reach the highest level. But I got pretty darn close and the ride was fun.”
The right-hander spent four years as a San Diego Padres farmhand after being drafted by the club in 2012. He spent last season in on the independent league circuit.
He finished with a 21-27 record, five saves and a 4.93 ERA in 168 career appearances for teams in Eugene, Oregon, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Lake Elsinore, California, Lincoln, Nebraska, and Grand Prairie, Texas
“I got married back in November of 2016 and [retirement] was a decision that I made myself,” Shepherd said. “My wife had been grinding with me through the last five years throughout the minor leagues and it is emotionally and mentally tough to be away that long.
“I got released by the Padres last season and I never wanted to be the guy that didn’t know when to hang it up. So, I gave it one year of independent ball. … It was fun, but all good things come to an end at some point and my time was now.”
No regrets or bitterness remain for Shepherd.
“I would just like to thank all my family and friends that cheered me on along the way,” Shepherd said. “When times got tough they were always there to pick me up and without them I never would have made it as far as I did. The love and support I got throughout the years was overwhelming.”
While Shepherd’s playing days are over, the show goes on for other local guys chasing the dream of one day reaching “The Show.”
Ex-Sullivan South High School star Tristan Archer is back with the Biloxi Shuckers, the Class AA affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Archer compiled a 3.42 ERA in 49 appearances for Biloxi last season. In an impressive statistical trend that speaks to his consistency as a pitcher, Archer has posted a 3.42 ERA in three straight seasons.
Infielder Will Craig and pitcher Matt Pope – both of whom played at Science Hill High School – are on teams which open the season tonight.
Craig is with the High-A Bradenton Marauders in the Pittsburgh farm system, while Pope is playing for the Low-A Augusta GreenJackets, a San Francisco Giants affiliate.
It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks for Richlands High School graduate Bradley Strong.
He was released by the Chicago White Sox despite compiling a .290 batting average in two seasons in their minor league system after being drafted in the 28th round out of Western Carolina University.
“I wasn’t really surprised,” Strong said. “Just because when you’re a late round pick you know it could happen any day.”
Strong didn’t stay unemployed long as he hooked on with the Minnesota Twins organization. He’s currently in extended spring training in Fort Myers, Florida.
“A former coach of mine works for the Twins and put in a word for me,” Strong said. “I came down here for a tryout and they decided to keep me.”
Trey York is in extended spring training as well with the Milwaukee Brewers.
The ex-East Tennessee State University slugger hit .289 with two teams in his professional debut last summer.
“Last year’s experience was great,” York said. “I met a lot of great people and learned a lot about the game. I felt very blessed for the opportunity to play professional baseball and want to make the most of it. For 2017, I want to continue to improve and develop as a player in the Brewers system. I’m beyond excited to get the season underway.”