Renfree reflects on baseball run
Editor’s note: Matt Renfree is a graduate of Placer High who played college baseball and pitched in the minor leagues. Over the course of an evening, he recalled his experiences at the high school level, the college level, and the professional level. This is the first of a two-part series on his exploits. See Part II on July 7.
This is a baseball story. It’s a story about a goal so close one can almost smell it. It’s about a dream so close one can almost touch it. It’s a baseball story with, sadly, no happy baseball ending like Roy Hobbs in ‘The Natural.’
It is a story, however, which offers to all of us a lesson on life. So maybe, just maybe, there is a happy ending to this story.
Matt Renfree dreamed of making it to the major leagues. For a short period of time, he was almost there. For eight games and appearances in two of those games, Renfree played Triple-A baseball for the Tacoma Rainiers. He was as close as one can get to the ‘bigs’ as a professional baseball player.
“My numbers were OK,” said Renfree as he described his experience in those two Triple-A games.
Renfree is a giant of a man. Standing 6-8, he towers over most of his friends and family. As a pitcher in the Seattle Mariners baseball organization, he could throw a fastball 88 mph.
On occasion, his fastball would reach 90 mph. While these numbers may sound impressive, they were just a bit too slow for the majors. Renfree was close to making the major leagues, but it was just out of reach.
Renfree graduated from Placer High in 2003. A two-sport star for the Hillmen in baseball and basketball, colleges showed interest in him in both sports. A baseball scholarship offer from the University of Nevada, Reno made his college decision an easy one.
Over the next four years, he pitched for Nevada.
“I loved playing for UNR,” he said. “It became my second home. I am as comfortable in Reno as I am in Auburn. Playing ball at UNR helped to make me the man I am today. It helped me to mature. Friends that I made on that team will be life-long friends. I would rate my experience a 10 out of 10.”
As imposing as he is physically, his size is dwarfed by his kindness. Anyone who knows Renfree, knows he is a gentle giant. Over the course of my interview with him, I never heard one negative word as he described his baseball experiences.
Looking back at his high school days at Placer, Renfree touched on the tragic death of his friend Hamilton Ball. Ball took his life on January 16, 2003.
“Hamilton died on my birthday,” Renfree said. “Every year on my birthday I go to Hamilton’s grave in Auburn. It’s a day I share every year with Hamilton.”
At Nevada, Renfree was good enough to be drafted in the 24th round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Mariners. He received a $2,500 signing bonus.
Tommy Davis, who was then the west coast cross checker for the Mariners (a cross checker is the scout for the Mariners who oversaw all scouting activities on the west coast, including Washington, Oregon, California, and Arizona) saw something in Renfree.
In June of 2007, he was sent to Rookie Ball in Peoria, Ariz. where he pitched well. His first year of professional baseball ended in September with the close of that season.