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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Now Up, Matt LaPorta: Talking His Career and Life After Baseball

Baseball players who are fortunate enough to play in the majors seemingly have it all. They are at the top of their profession, can make a salary that if lucky can veer into Jed Clampett money, and get to travel the world.  However, baseball careers are just a fraction in length of a typical vocation, and many players are at a loss of how to proceed once they are done with the game. Former player Matt LaPorta is trying to do something about that, and his post-baseball work could be a real game changer.

As a youngster, LaPorta was one of the top prospects in all of baseball. The right-handed hitting first baseman/outfielder was drafted in the 14th round of the 2003 draft by the Chicago Cubs but decided to attend the University of Florida. He was also selected in the 14th round by the Boston Red Sox in 2006 but chose to remain at school for the senior season of his stand-out career. It turned out to be a smart choice, as he hit .402 with 20 home runs as a senior, earning All-American honors and the distinction of being the seventh overall pick in the 2007 draft when he was tapped by the Milwaukee Brewers.

The minors seemed to be little challenge for the slugger, as he mashed 62 home runs in his first three seasons, solidifying his status as a top prospect. That ultimately led to him being the centerpiece of a trade in July, 2008 that brought star pitcher C.C. Sabathia over from the Cleveland Indians.

LaPorta made his major league debut with the Indians in 2009, hitting his first home run in just his second game. In four seasons with Cleveland, he hit a combined .238 with 31 home runs and 120 RBIs. Unfortunately, he was derailed by a series of injuries that impeded his ability to find consistency. He spent 2013 in the minors and 2014 in the Mexican League before deciding to retire from the game at the age of 29.

Now that he is off the diamond, he has hit the ground running. He has launched the NowUp Foundation, designed to work with former players who need assistance to successfully transition to their new lives outside of baseball. It’s an ambitious project with goals to provide counseling and career mentoring to those who have known little outside of the game. With the turnover of players in the minors and majors each year, there should be a substantial client base who could find great benefit from this endeavor.

Much success is wished to LaPorta as he embarks on his next career. Check him out on Twitter, and keep posted for more information about NowUp. In the meantime, here is what he had to say to me when I sent him some questions about his playing days and his newest gig.

Matt LaPorta Interview:

Who was your favorite team and player when you were growing up, and why?: My favorite team growing up was the Chicago Cubs. My Dad’s side of the family was from the south side of Chicago but that didn’t stop them from being huge Cubs fans. I remember every day coming home from school and sitting with my Papa and Gram and watching the Cubs play their day games. Growing up, my favorite players were Sammy Sosa because he was a Cubby, and then as he was phasing out it became Albert Pujols. I loved what he stood for as a Christian man, and how he played the game. I tried to emulate the way I hit to model him. 

What was your favorite moment from your playing career?: Wow, that’s a tough question. I feel like I have had some great moments. I’ll tell you a few and you can decide which one you like the best. 

Getting to play in the 2005 College World Series was a great experience. 

Being drafted in the first round after my senior year was amazing especially since everyone thought I was crazy for going back. I trusted and had faith that great things would happen. 

Representing my country USA in the 2008 Bejing Olympic Games and getting a bronze medal. 

Getting my first call up in 2009 was unbelievable. The best things to happen in the big leagues was that I had a couple of walk-off hits/homers 

Which coach or manager had the greatest influence on you, and why?: Another great question. I would have to say there a few of coaches that really had an influence on my career. One being Dave Tollett, who was my high school coach and now is the head coach at Florida Gulf Coast University. He has done amazing things there. Two is Pat McMahon. He was my head coach at the University of Florida. He taught me a lot about the mental side of the game of baseball. He was very analytical and really taught me about the small things in the game. Three, the two coaches in professional baseball that had the greatest influence on me was Sandy Alomar because he just understood the game so much and taught how to think through the game. Last is Mike Hargrove. He would come into spring training and help me out at first base. He was always so inspiring and helped me believe in myself. 

If you could do anything from your playing career differently, what would that be and why?: The one thing that I would have done differently is not have two hip surgeries, (Haha) which I had no control over. The things that I did have control over would be not to rush back from the hip surgeries and take my time to make sure that I was as close to 100 percent healthy as I could be. I would really take interest in people outside of the game and realize that it’s not all about me. Lastly, I would have done a better job of eating healthier for my career. It is a very important part of the game that sometimes as players we over look the importance of. 

Now that you have retired from playing, you have have started a foundation called NowUP. Can you talk a little bit about that and the work you are doing?: NowUP will be working with retired and soon to be retired baseball players. Our goal is to help them with the transitional process of leaving the game. A lot of players feel lost once the game is over and nowhere to turn because there are a limited amount of people who actually played professional baseball. We want to let players know that they are not alone and that they can be a huge success outside of the game of baseball. Our goal is to help them get a job that is a good fit for them, and provide them with any counseling they may need because this is a huge change in our lives. 

How difficult was it for you to transition from playing to "civilian life?": For me I knew I was done because my hip was killing me. After two surgeries you just are not the same person. It was time for me. But I still deal with knowing that if I was healthy I could be a successful MLB player and make a lot of money. Ha. I miss the games; I don’t miss getting prepared for the games. I mostly have good days but every once in a while I get down about not being able to play baseball. Then I take a step back and realize how blessed I was to get to play baseball at the highest level. 

How prepared would you say most former players are to adjust to post-playing life?: I would say that only about 15-25 percent of players are prepared to leave the game of baseball. That might even be a high number. While you’re in baseball it’s hard to think of anything else or do anything else. You have a one track mind. Making it to the big leagues or staying in the big leagues. It is a huge adjustment for most guys getting out of the game. 

What are some of your major goals moving forward?: Some of my major goals moving forward are growing the NowUP Foundation to be a huge resource for players. I also want NowUP to be so good at what we do that companies from around the country are calling us about our players because they want them to come work for them. 

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