Leary estimates 27 scouts representing 23 different MLB teams were present at their last scout day in fall 2018. But as important as McBride is to Lehigh, the university and the coach are just as important to McBride.
Over time, McBride’s questions for Leary have subsided as Leary’s questions for McBride have increased. By nature, McBride doesn’t want to step on anyone’s toes, so Leary says he has to prompt him for feedback on Lehigh players whenever he’s around. “Quite frankly at this point, he knows more about hitting than I’ll ever know, and he’s done it at a higher level,” Leary says.
From time to time, McBride still leans on Leary for advice.
It’s also Leary who was among those pushing McBride to finish his Lehigh degree. When McBride was drafted in 2006, he was 26 credits shy of graduating. With fall ball and instructional leagues running through November, and spring training starting in February, there wasn’t much of a window to take classes. Neck surgery prematurely ended his 2013 season with the Colorado Spring Sky Sox, the Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate at the time, allowing him to get in a full semester.
Noticing he didn’t look like a typical freshman, one professor asked McBride about his situation. “He was like, ‘I’m a student. I’m a full-time student now,’” Leary says. “And [our players], they’re like, ‘No, you play for the Rockies. Tell him you play for the Rockies.’ He just wouldn’t bring it up. … Every time he goes somewhere, he just wants to be Matt McBride, not the professional baseball player.”
McBride finished his political science degree from Lehigh in January 2018.
‘WE LOVE YOU, MATT!’
Initially, McBride was indecisive about his college choice, even after a meeting with his parents, Leary and a Lehigh admissions counselor.
Knowing the player was on the fence, Leary penned a handwritten letter that listed the “Top 10” reasons McBride should choose Lehigh.
Some of the reasons included academic opportunities at Lehigh and job placement numbers. The more lighthearted suggested McBride would look good in brown, or keep Leary from prematurely graying. And, of course, one reminded the Bethlehem native that playing at Lehigh would mean his friends would be able to see him play.
McBride still mentions the letter, which made more of an impact than Leary could have imagined. The day McBride was drafted, family, friends, teammates and coaches gathered at his house. On the dining room table old photos and jerseys were displayed along with his Lehigh championship ring. In the center, under a glass plate, was Leary’s letter.
As McBride’s pro baseball career inches closer to the end than the beginning, his baseball life has come full circle. Just as his family was able to watch him play in college, they’re able to regularly attend IronPigs games now.
Matt’s father George always followed his son when he could. One day in 2012, he drove to Iowa to catch one of McBride’s minor league games with the Sky Sox only to find out he wasn’t playing.
“They scratched him from the lineup,” George says. “I was calling Catherine, his fiance at the time [now wife], and his mom. ‘Why the scratch?’ After the game he comes walking out, he had a big smile on his face. I figured, what the heck? He goes, ‘Hey dad, I got the call up.’ You’d think it’d be a thrill. We just stood there looking at each other.”
The next morning, George dropped his son off at the airport and drove 11 more hours, arriving in Denver with minutes to spare before McBride’s major league debut with the Rockies.