Astros Youth Academy director Daryl Wade and manager Duane Stelly were in Seattle last week coaching players from Houston in the Commissioner’s Cup, which featured 11 teams of youth baseball players from MLB Youth Academies and Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities programs from around the country.
Stelly had his phone in the dugout tuned to the MLB Draft Tracker, anxious to see which player the Astros were going to take with their first-round pick (No. 28 overall). Stelly and Wade were sitting on the bench looking at the screen when Brice Matthews’ name popped up. Both men jumped into the air and started hugging each other and yelling.
“Our kids were actually on defense, so it wasn’t like a kid hit a home run and that’s why we were screaming in the dugout,” Stelly said. “Our kids were like, ‘What’s going on with coach Stelly and coach Wade?’”
“That’s our kid!” Wade told those around him.
Matthews, a shortstop taken out of the University of Nebraska, had played at the Astros Youth Academy since he was 9 years old and has an extremely close relationship with Wade and Stelly. Having one of their own -- a kid they watched grow up on their fields -- selected by the hometown Astros was an enormous source of pride for both men.
“It was just meant to be,” Wade said. “Here was a kid who came all the way through, played with us. That’s big for us.”
Matthews, a former star high-school quarterback at Atascocita High School in suburban Houston, is a 6-foot, 190-pound right-handed bat who blossomed into a serious prospect in his junior year at Nebraska, hitting .359/.481/.723, with 67 RBIs and 61 runs scored to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors. He became the first player in Nebraska history to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases in a season.
Both of Matthews’ parents -- Steve and Edrice Matthews -- attended the same high school as Stelly, McDonogh 35 College Preparatory High School in New Orleans, and later attended the University of Oklahoma with Stelly, as well. Steve Matthews ended up playing baseball at the University of Kansas and coached at the Youth Academy.
“My dad and coach Stelly, they played together in high school, so that’s kind of the connection of how I started going [to the Youth Academy],” Brice Matthews said. “The relationship between me and coach Wade, it’s family. Those guys and those women, they’ve been nothing but a great help to me with getting me to where I am and all the people that have showed me much love and helped me grow as a player and a person. It’s a blessing.”
Wade said thousands of boys and girls have come through the Youth Academy since it opened in 2010, with many getting scholarships to play baseball and softball. All those kids have their names on the wall inside the academy. There have been 11 kids taken in the MLB Draft who played at the Youth Academy, but never a first-rounder until Matthews.
“It’s definitely a blessing for us,” Stelly said. “It just shows that from the Youth Academy side, that’s it’s possible and it’s a vision for kids. Now kids can actually say, ‘Brice Matthews was in the same position I was. Brice Matthews played in the Commissioner’s Cup I’m playing in. Brice Matthews was playing in the Astros’ backyard.’ He kind of came through all of our programs, so it’s a real testament to the program. But it also gives kids that vision that they can see it’s attainable if they keep working and keep progressing.”
Wade called Matthews shortly after he was drafted and went to his house the next day for a party for friends and family. Wade said he can’t wait to bring him back to the Youth Academy and show the kids playing there that their dreams are within reach.
“I like to say he never big-timed us,” Wade said. “When he got to high school and college, he still was an academy kid and I appreciated that. I talked to him numerous times when he was in college, and we try to do that with all our kids, talk to them while they’re in school and let them know we’re still pulling for them back home. He would always take the call, always return the text and just very, very proud to be part of his career.”