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Bush grateful for second chance after prison term

Former No. 1 overall pick signs Minor League contract after over three years of incarceration
MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Matt Bush is 30 years old, but he still looks like he just walked out of a high school yearbook. He could be your son, your son's friends or your son's teammate at almost any Dallas-Fort Worth high school.

He is short and slim with close-cropped dark hair, olive-smooth skin and soft eyes. He is polite, respectful and soft-spoken, and he looks directly at the person he is addressing. Sitting in a conference room in the front office of the Rangers' Surprise, Ariz., complex, Bush talks openly about his past.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Matt Bush is 30 years old, but he still looks like he just walked out of a high school yearbook. He could be your son, your son's friends or your son's teammate at almost any Dallas-Fort Worth high school.

He is short and slim with close-cropped dark hair, olive-smooth skin and soft eyes. He is polite, respectful and soft-spoken, and he looks directly at the person he is addressing. Sitting in a conference room in the front office of the Rangers' Surprise, Ariz., complex, Bush talks openly about his past.

There is nothing in Bush's demeanor to suggest that alcohol almost destroyed his life, or that he spent over three years in a Florida prison after pleading no contest to driving under the influence of alcohol with seriously bodily injury.

It is hard to imagine that Bush got roaring drunk one March 2012 night in Port Charlotte, Fla., and almost killed a man.

But that is what happened, and now Bush is hoping a new opportunity with the Rangers will allow him the chance that he once squandered after being the first overall pick by the Padres in the 2004 MLB Draft.

"I view this as a large blessing," Bush said. "I am very grateful and very honored to have this chance. I really want to make the most of it. It feels really good to come to the park every day, wear the Rangers gear and mingle with other baseball players."

He lives at a hotel next to the Rangers' complex with his father, Danny. He has a strong relationship with Roy Silver, the Rangers' player development assistant who was instrumental in Josh Hamilton's recovery. Bush attends multiple Alcoholics Anonymous meetings during the week and walks to the complex in the morning.

"Little things, it doesn't take much to make me happy," Bush said. "Every day I walk back to the hotel, it makes me happy. I feel free. I love the view and the setting, the baseball field, the atmosphere."

He understands he is an alcoholic, and that it was alcohol that ruined his life.

"I'd like for people to know my past," Bush said. "There have been a lot of mistakes and a lot of troubles with alcohol. I understand I am an alcoholic, and I can not drink alcohol. But also the past is the past. I was young and immature and didn't have a handle on everyday life. Today I am more mature and able to refrain from alcohol, [I can] stay sober and lead a healthy life."

Bush started drinking in high school. The first sign of real trouble came just a few weeks after he signed with the Padres, when he was arrested over an incident in a bar near the Padres' training complex.

Bush was drafted as a shortstop, but the bat never came around, so the Padres converted him into a pitcher in 2007. He missed all of 2008 while recovering from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, and he was traded to the Blue Jays. Bush was released at the end of Spring Training in 2009 for failing to comply with team guidelines. The signs of alcoholism continued to show up as there were DUI arrests and reported drunken assaults.

"For the most part, my drinking wasn't a lot of fun," Bush said. "It was a bad habit. I think when I was younger, the social side, I kept to myself, more reserved. As I got around high school age, I started closing off and holding a lot of stuff in. I experienced the effects of alcohol, that relaxed me and made me feel good.

"The problem was I used that to let go some of the stuff bottled inside me."

He was signed by the Rays in 2010 and lived for two months at the Winning Inning Baseball Academy run by Silver. The academy provides housing, structure and support system. Hamilton's recovery began at the academy several years earlier. Bush spent two seasons in the Rays system and seemed on the way to recovery.

Then everything changed on the night of March 22, 2012.

The Rays train in Port Charlotte, and Bush had the day off. He borrowed teammate Brandon Guyer's truck to run some errands. Guyer didn't know Bush did not have a driver's license.

While he was out, Bush stopped to buy a beer at a gas station. He intended to have just one, but the drinking got out of control. He hit a pole with the truck and realized what he had done. Afraid to tell his teammate, Bush kept on drinking at a strip club until he was finally kicked out.

He left the club and was racing down Highway 41 when he hit 72-year-old motorcyclist Tony Tufano. If Tufano had not been wearing a helmet, he would have been killed, witnesses said. Bush fled from the scene, but he was finally pulled over by police.

He had hit rock bottom and was only saved from complete ruination because Tufano survived the accident. Tufano has since forgiven Bush for what happened.

"I can remember first being arrested, and it kind of sunk in what I just threw away," Bush said. "When it sunk in what I was facing, what my family was going through, what my mom and dad were going through, and realizing I did not want to spend a day in jail, I had to stay there for a few years, then it really set in, what it was going to be like.

"I still had it in the back of my head, before that all happened, I could have a few drinks and not ruin my life. Now I really understand, I'm not hiding from myself. I know if I'm drinking I am in trouble."

On Dec. 18, 2012, Bush accepted a plea bargain and was sentenced to 51 months in prison. It was his third DUI conviction, and he was sent to the Hamilton Correctional Institute in Jasper, Fla.

"It was tough," Bush said. "I wasn't so sure what happened, but I just wanted to be a productive member of society, have a job and support a family. Hopefully I can do that through baseball. I wanted another shot so I kept myself in shape. I stayed positive."

He found support from fellow inmates in prison who encouraged him not to give up on his dream.

"There were a lot of guys excited to hear about what I used to do as a baseball player," Bush said. "They encouraged me that I might have another shot. That I made a mistake, but hopefully I could do what I wanted to do with my life.

"There are quite a few people in prison who really are supporting and encouraging. Of course, there are people there who are probably going to keep coming back. But, for the most part there were a lot of people who were serious about turning their life around."

Bush was released from prison on Oct. 30, 2015. During his incarceration, he still maintained his relationship with Silver. After he got out, Bush expressed a desire to try baseball again. The Rangers, with Silver's recommendation, watched him throw, saw there was still something there and signed him to a Minor League contract.

"From a personal standpoint, I have had people in my life who never gave up on me," Silver said. "When I first got involved with him, it was more about 'How are you doing with your life? What can I help you with?' It had nothing to do with playing. I was going to be in Matt's life with or without this opportunity. We started talking, and we started playing catch and decided to give it another shot.

"I am going to be connected with him as a mentor/student/friend no matter what happens. It just happens that he is physically able to do this at his age."

Bush is in Minor League camp as a reliever, throwing regular sessions in the bullpen and hoping to start the season as high as Double-A Frisco.

But he has one goal above all and it doesn't involve alcohol.

"To me, drinking alcohol is a matter of life and death or prison," Bush said. "I want to live."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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