Matt Golda could tell his son was good, he just wasn’t quite sure how good. Matthew Golda was clearly separating himself as a preteen baseball player around Massachusetts — his father was curious how far ahead of most of his competition he had moved.
The elder Golda had heard about East Cobb Baseball, an organization of travel teams in Georgia, from a scout. East Cobb was the best program in the country, the scout had told him, and if his 10-year-old son could make it there he would be able to make it anywhere.
Matt scoured the internet to hunt down a few emails for some of the coaches in Marietta, Ga., and blindly sent video of Matthew. He doesn’t know exactly what he was expecting to come of it.
“I had no clue how it’d work,” the elder Golda said.
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The calls started to flood in from coaches throughout the program. Matt’s emails went out a few weeks ahead of the Amateur Athletic Union national championships and the timing happened to be perfect for the East Cobb Bulldogs.
“We lost our top pitcher,” Golda remembers Chris Mielnicki, the Bulldogs’ coach, saying. “We really need an extra pitcher. Do you think you could get him here?”
So Matt and Matthew hopped in the car and set off for a 16-hour trip down the East Coast from New Bedford, Mass., to Georgia. It was the start of an unusual journey for the younger Golda, which has had him playing away from home during summers since he was in middle school and year round since he began high school. He has made stops in Georgia, the Dominican Republic and now Bradenton (at Inspiration Academy), where he is considered one of the top shortstops in the nation.
70Matthew Golda’s ranking among senior high school players, according to a preseason list by Baseball America.
Golda will have a chance to be taken relatively early this week during the MLB draft, which begins Monday with the first two rounds and continues through Wednesday. He was part of Baseball America’s preseason rankings of the top-100 draft-eligible high school players (No. 70) and ranked the 12th-best shortstop nationally and the 12th-best player in Florida.
It’s a possibility that may not have existed had his family not been willing to let Golda find new homes beyond Massachusetts. Living in the Northeast, with its lengthy winters, limits a player’s options. Once it was clear Golda had a chance to turn the sport into a career, the Goldas were willing to commit to an unorthodox lifestyle for their son.
“It’s been a lot of stuff we’ve done. It’s not normal,” Matt said. “A lot of weird serendipity-type stuff.”
That first journey south from the Boston area marked the beginning. During the drive, Matt put in a call to coaches with the Charlotte Megastars, who had been the 9U national champions a year earlier.
It’s been a lot of stuff we’ve done. It’s not normal. A lot of weird serendipity-type stuff.
Matt Golda, Matthew Golda’s father
Maybe, Matt suggested, they could stop by for a practice on their way to the Atlanta area.
Jeff Schaefer, a former MLB infielder and coach for the Megastars, offered to take a look at Golda as they passed through North Carolina. Golda was doing a little bit of everything at the time — now he exclusively plays shortstop — and Schaefer was as impressed as the ECB coaches by Golda’s assertiveness and raw ability.
“I’ve had 2,000 kids that are 10 years old,” Matt remembers Schaefer telling him, “and I haven’t had one that can do what your son could do.”
A few weeks later, the East Cobb Bulldogs finished third in the nation, and Matthew was launched on a new path. By the following summer, the youngster was flying on planes by himself to make trips lasting a few weeks down to Georgia, where he’d stay with teammates and play in tournaments for East Cobb.
.365Matthew Golda’s batting average during his senior season at Inspiration Academy.
The trips to Cobb County started lasting longer and longer each summer until he basically spent the entire summer months playing against elite competition. Justin Fields, one of the players whose family he frequently stayed with, is now the top-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2018, according to 247sports.com’s composite rankings.
“It was my goal at an early age to find out how good I really was. I wanted to find where I stacked up with everybody else,” Matthew said. “I wasn’t afraid to travel or do anything else by myself.”
His next voyage came on a whim. It was the summer before Matthew was set to begin high school, and his grandfather in the Dominican Republic was sick. He had never been to the country where his mother is from, so he took a trip for the summer to visit family.
The lifestyle in the Dominican Republic suited Matthew. He loved the warm weather and, of course, all the baseball. He stayed with family in Bani, but traveled all over, finding pickup games against kids like him who dreamed of one day playing in the Majors.
It was my goal at an early age to find out how good I really was. I wanted to find where I stacked up with everybody else. I wasn’t afraid to travel or do anything else by myself.
Matthew Golda, Inspiration Academy shortstop
He became friends with players who are now in the minors, including Fernando Tatis Jr., and when his parents were ready for him to come home Matthew asked if he could stay. For the next two years, he trained in the Dominican Republic.
“I have other sons and I would never do it with them,” Matt said. “It wasn’t as hard as what people would think because I had a lot of trust in him.”
Baseball became even more a way of life for Matthew in his new home. Days were consumed by the sport and the warm weather let him train year round in a way he never could in Massachusetts. One of the first scouts to look at Golda was shocked by how poor he was at fielding fly balls. In Boston, Matthew spent seven or eight months training indoors. He took hundreds of ground balls each day, but was seldom able to practice fielding fly balls.
I have other sons and I would never do it with them. It wasn’t as hard as what people would think because I had a lot of trust in him.
Matt Golda, Matthew Golda’s father
Life in the Dominican Republic was simple and it never felt as dangerous as the country’s reputation may suggest. He lived in Juandolio with the Tatises and traveled to San Pedro each day to train with his adoptive family. He calls Fernando Tatis Sr., who is perhaps most famous for hitting two grand slams in one inning while a member of the Mets, family now and was even baptized by the former Major Leaguer. Matt estimates Matthew has about 50 players around the minors he knows. More than a hundred players, he guesses, have signed off the same field where Golda was training in San Pedro
Juandolio is a nice town, but each day his travels to San Pedro would take him through some of the poorer parts of the country. As much as the training helped, the perspective he gained during his two years in the Dominican Republic were just as important.
“It was a humbling experience,” Matthew said. “If you see those people, with whatever problems they have going on, it’ll really get you through any problems.”
By the time he was set to begin his junior year, Matthew and other Dominicans his age were eligible to start signing minor-league contracts. He had some offers, although nothing to seriously intrigue the family.
It was time for Golda to come home — sort of.
“We felt like he had made so much progress,” Matt said, “that to go to the Northeast would be a step back, training-wise.”
Matt once again scoured the Southeast, this time to find a high school where his son could finish his last two years before heading to the draft or college. Matthew has signed with Florida Atlantic, although junior college could still be an option depending on draft prospects.
Inspiration Academy wasn’t the first school Matt looked at, but it was the one that made it easiest on him when the complexities of getting Matthew from the Dominican Republic back to the United States became most overwhelming. Just get Matthew to the airport in Tampa, Lions athletic director Mario Jimenez told Matt, and they would get him on campus to figure out how he could get enrolled.
So for the past two years, Matthew has become one of the most impressive players in the brief history of Inspiration Academy. He was a first-team All-Area selection earlier this month and his defense amazes scouts. His ability to range into the hole and fire strikes across the diamond to turn seeming singles into outs, Jimenez said, is unparalleled at the high school level.
“You’re kind of embellishing, but you’re like thinking about it, like this kid I feel like could play defense at shortstop in the Major Leagues right now. It’s that impressive,” said Jimenez, who oversees the half dozen teams that make up Inspiration’s baseball program. “He has that kind of defense where you’re constantly finding yourself asking, ‘What just happened?’”
This skill, above all else, is what could get him chosen as early as Tuesday, when Rounds 3-10 of this year’s draft take place. It will be the culmination of an unusual life spent with a singular mission.
“Since I was a kid, that was always my dream, to play professionally,” Matthew said.
This week, all the airline miles he has racked up and the time he has spent away from home could make his dream a reality.
2017 MLB First-Year Player Draft
What: 40 rounds, plus supplemental rounds
Where: Secaucus, N.J.
When: Monday, 7 p.m. (rounds 1-2, supplemental); Tuesday, 1 p.m. (rounds 3-10); Wednesday, noon (rounds 11-40)
TV: MLB Network (Monday, First round plus supplemental round A).
Online: Mlb.com (all rounds).
Rays picks: Fourth overall; 31st (supplemental round A); 40th (second round); 79th (third round). Team will pick fourth in rounds 4-40.