“Just sitting in the locker room, putting on that Rangers uniform… Imagining that day, that moment. That was probably the most anxious moment of my life”. For Matt Bush, his debut was the chance to turn life around after a very long and complicated road to the big leagues. His story started out as a young man’s dream. Drafted first overall by the San Diego Padres in the 2004 draft, Matt defied expectations. “He was just a special player over there at shortstop, with a phenomenal arm”, said Dave Valle. “Obviously he has made that transition to pitcher but, he was just phenomenal”. After being signed by San Diego, he was arrested just two weeks later on an alcohol possession charge. This was the first of many alcohol related charges, that eventually led to him being traded. “I was a young kid back then that didn’t want to listen to anyone or anything. I just wanted to do things my own way and try to figure it out for myself” said Bush.
He was converted into a pitcher before being traded to Toronto in 2009, five years after he was drafted. However just two months later, Bush was arrested again and released by the Blue Jays after he was found drinking at a party. After a period of free agency, the Tampa Bay Rays picked up Bush in 2010. For a while, Matt focused on baseball. He looked like he might have been able to turn things around. However on March 22nd, 2012, after borrowing a teammates vehicle to drive home from the Rays practice, Matt Bush hit a man on a motorcycle while driving drunk. The man, Anthony Tufano, was 72 years old and left in critical condition. His life was saved only by his helmet after Bush completely crushed him underneath the SUV. Bush ran, and eventually police were able to identify him as the perpetrator. This resulted in a four year, three month sentence in a Florida prison. Now released by the Rays and sitting in a jail cell, the former #1 draft pick spent long days the consisted of push-ups and workouts, and long nights thinking about what he could have done differently. His only visitor- a reporter that wanted to document the dangerous effects that alcohol has on someone’s life. “I don’t ever want to drink again. I don’t ever want to go to jail or prison ever again. It’s just a nightmare. It’s something nobody would ever want to go through”. Bush always wanted to get back into baseball. The kid’s dream was still there through the pain and the guilt. Tufano was a supporter of him through it all. “Look, you’re a young man” Tufano said. “The fortunate thing for both of us is that I’m still here… I’d love for him to get into sports. Do something positive”.
After multiple years in state prison, Bush was assigned to a work release program in February of 2015. He took a job at Golden Corral, making eight dollars an hour. One day, an old friend and mentor, Roy Silver, visited Matt to check up on him and see how he was doing. The visits became regular, and eventually they started throwing together in the parking lot. “He would bring his shin guards and pads and glove, and I would use the curb as a pitching rubber”, Matt said. “He was in the parking lot hitting 93-95 in sneakers with an ankle bracelet on. It was just ridiculous”, said Silver, the Rangers special assistant to player development. Matt attracted the attention of scouts from the organization, and they were amazed by not only his pitching ability, but his story. He was a man, broken beyond belief, in unbelievable regret, and looking for a way to break the chains. After his unconditional release from prison in October of the same year, he signed a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers.
After pitching 17 innings at AA Frisco and a wonderful spring training, Matt Bush was summoned from the bullpen for the ninth inning of the Blue Jays vs. Rangers game on May 13th, 2016. Twelve years after he was drafted as a shortstop, the thirty year old rookie was ready to make his debut. As a fan in the stands on this particular night, it was hard not to feel the emotion in his warm-up pitches. The ballpark grew loud, and after a 1-2-3 ninth inning, the fans erupted as they saw a new chapter begin in his life. Matt walked off the mound that night a new man; a man who overcame one of the hardest obstacles life can throw at you.
Matt went on to pitch in 58 games for the Rangers, posting a 2.48 ERA while going 7-2. When asked what the best part about the process was, Matt replied “To feel proud. For my family not to only hear negative things about me”.
“We are watching a story being written, that a lot of people can relate to.”, said Rangers manager Jeff Banister. “It’s up to him to continue writing it in the right direction”. Bush’s story is one of second chances and redemption. He is an example of overcoming obstacles, no matter how great they may seem. His story also illustrates the impact that baseball can have on someone’s life. Baseball is a heartbeat, an escape from daily struggles, and a chance at redemption. Baseball is a life changer. Baseball is beautiful. And for Matt, well, baseball is healing.
– Christopher Silvey