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Baseball: Former big-leaguer Matt Angle returns to roots to help coach Ohio State bats

Former Ohio State and Baltimore Orioles’ outfielder Matt Angle (38) is congratulated in the dugout after hitting a lead off home run against Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander during the first-inning at Comerica Park in Detroit, on Sept. 24, 2011. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Every kid playing catch in the backyard with his or her father dreams about the chance to make it to the big leagues.

For most, those hopeful thoughts are virtually unattainable.

But there are some who make it.

Former Ohio State outfielder Matt Angle was able to achieve that goal. He spent three years playing at the school of his dreams, was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles and debuted with the team in 2011, becoming the first OSU outfielder since Nick Swisher to reach the majors.

But for Angle, the dream he was living started well before he was drafted.

Growing up in a suburban community in Whitehall, Ohio — a small city east of Columbus — Angle had grown up a fan of the Buckeyes. Both his grandfather and his aunt had graduated from OSU, and Angle said he was excited to play at the school he grew up loving.

“It was awesome,” Angle said. “I grew up a Buckeye fan. Being able to have your family and friends come watch and still be close to home, it was a great experience.”

Angle found a great deal of success at OSU, almost immediately. As a freshman in 2005, he started in 40 games in right field and quickly established himself as a bonafide leadoff hitter for the Buckeyes.

On Apr. 27, 2005, in the second game of a doubleheader against Eastern Michigan, Angle was batting leadoff and starting in right field. For the remaining 27 games of the season, and essentially for the rest of his Buckeye career, Angle was found atop the lineup.

But despite all the success, it was not until he participated in the Cape Cod League in 2006 that he started to believe a professional career in baseball was ahead of him.

“(I) went out there, performed well, and that’s when you’re matched up against some of the best players in the country,” Angle said.

Then, on June 7, 2007, the phone call finally came through, alerting Angle that he had been selected with the fifth pick in the seventh round of the draft, 219th overall by the Baltimore Orioles.

Angle remembers exactly where he was when he got the life-changing call.

“I was actually at my house on campus,” he said. “Just with some roommates and some buddies, and then got together with my family after.”

Angle describes the moment as a great and memorable experience.

“It’s something that you work hard for, something that you always dream about — the opportunity to play professionally, and it was something I’ll never forget,” he said.

After being drafted, it took Angle some time to reach the majors. He debuted in 2007 at Low Class-A and the next three-and-a-half seasons traveled through various levels of the minors before finally landing in Baltimore.

For many minor-leaguers, the travel can be an unwanted burden that puts stress on the family life, but Angle and his wife saw it as a great opportunity to see many different parts of the United States.

“(My wife) was able to see a lot of cities and a lot of places that she wouldn’t have been able to see,” he said. “Looking back now, I think you appreciate it more — some of the trips, some of the cities, some of the opportunities. Time to spend together that you do while you were playing.”

Despite the travel and most of the minor league teams being located closer to the East Coast, Angle kept to his roots and lived in Columbus throughout his playing career.

“Columbus was always home,” he said. “Offseasons were always spent in Columbus, and then I would just live in whatever home city I was playing in that year. But Columbus has always been home.”

On July 17, 2011, the day finally came when Angle donned an Orioles uniform and took the field at Camden Yards. He was slotted to lead off, a role in which he had grown comfortable. He went 0 for 3, but it was a day he will never forget.

Orioles left fielder Matt Angle (38) bumps fists with first base coach Wayne Kirby (23) in the 7th inning after he is walked to first base by Indians’ pitcher Chad Durbin. The Baltimore Orioles defeated the Cleveland Indians, 8-3, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore, on July 17, 2011. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

“It’s something you’re always working for,” Angle said. “My wife and my mom and uncle and cousin were able to make the trip over to Baltimore. It was a day game, I can’t remember if it was noon or 1, so it was early. Got in late the night before after getting called up so it was a quick turnaround.”

And of all the teams he could have debuted against, of course it was the Ohio-based Cleveland Indians. Though Angle grew up as a Cincinnati Reds fan, it was something special for him to play against a local team.

“(I was) not as much an Indians fan, but it was great growing up in Ohio to be able to make your debut against another Ohio team,” Angle said.

Unfortunately for Angle, his career in the majors was short-lived. He finished the 2011 season in Baltimore and never saw another major-league at-bat. His final career stat line was .177/.293/.266, with a lone home run and 11 stolen bases.

He spent four more seasons in the minors, split between the farm systems of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Miami Marlins and Oakland Athletics.

But as the years wore on and it became clearer that he did not have the same skillset he had a few years earlier, Angle decided to hang up his cleats.

“At that point, sometimes the game just kind of tells you,” he said. “Ideally, you would’ve loved to still been able to play longer, but sometimes the game just tells you it’s time.”

Though his career as a player was over, Angle found a new career with the sport he loved. He knew he still had some unfinished business and a possible future back in Columbus.

Angle left OSU a year early, without receiving his degree, so that was one of the first things he wanted to take care of when he moved back to Columbus.

“It was something that was always important to me,” he said. “I actually finished my degree my last year of playing. And it was something I’ve always wanted to do. Having a degree from Ohio State means so many different things, whether it’s in the sport world or the business world.”

While completing his degree in sport industry at OSU, Angle found that a job was awaiting him on the baseball team. He joined coach Greg Beals’ staff as co-video coordinator.

In this position, he sits down with players to review film and helps them go through what might be wrong with their swing and how they can heat up at the plate.

“My first year as the — I was more student, I was still graduating at the time — there was a lot more I was able to do on-field,” Angle said. “So you’re able to implement some things there, and now you’re just following through on the video side, suggesting, being able to give a fresh set of eyes watching the game a little bit differently.”

Ohio State co-video coordinator Matt Angle in the dugout during the Buckeyes’ 2016 Big Ten tournament championship run. Credit: Courtesy of OSU Athletics

For some of these younger players, a fresh set of eyes can be exactly what they need to help break out of a funk at the plate.

Sophomore third baseman Brady Cherry said that the team benefits from having a former player with the experience at the plate.

“He knows his stuff, and I think everybody here trusts him with all the knowledge that he has,” Cherry said.

The experience Angle brings to the team isn’t only as a bastion of light for players going through a tough time at the plate, but it can also be a great aid to the coaching staff if it can’t seem to get through to the player.

“Matt’s a great resource for me too — just in different approaches, how to approach hitters, and how we can go about attacking a week and attacking a practice plan, and helping get our guys as ready to play as possible,” Beals said.

For Angle, his time spent helping coach younger players at OSU has been well spent, and he seems to like the work here. Asked what he will be doing after coaching at OSU, Angle said he doesn’t know.

“That’s the great question. You know, we’ll see,” Angle said. “I’ve enjoyed the last two-and-a-half, three years that I’ve been a part of the program. Right now, being fully entrenched in the season, not really thinking too far outside of that. If you have any great ideas, I’d be open.”

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