Indians mourn Triple-A clubhouse manager

Players help launch fund to benefit Pruzinsky's widow, unborn twins

December 12th, 2017

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Fletcher Wilkes fought back tears as he spoke over the phone on Tuesday afternoon. For anyone who knew Matt Pruzinsky, the clubhouse manager for the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, the past few days have been stunning and hard to stomach.

Pruzinsky passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on Sunday at the age of 32, leaving behind his wife, Shannon, who is expecting twin boys in March. Wilkes, who is the home clubhouse manager for the Indians' complex in Arizona, worked closely with Pruzinsky for the past decade during Spring Training.

"His smile, his personality, and the way he went about his day, his life," said Wilkes, who was overcome with emotion. "The way life was for him, it was like he was a servant for everybody. He truly was. When he was in a room, you knew it. He made people laugh and smile. His presence was very infectious. You can see it throughout what the players have been saying. We all loved him. He never had a bad day."

Pruzinsky died of cardiac arrest while attending the Cleveland Browns' NFL game against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Ken Schnacke, the president and general manager of the Clippers, said Pruzinsky was healthy and there was no indication something like this could happen. That made the news especially shocking for everyone who crossed paths with Pruzinsky.

"I have a pit in my stomach," said Tony Amato, the Indians' home clubhouse manager at Progressive Field.

Prior to his role with the Clippers, Pruzinsky worked in the clubhouse for the Class A Lake County Captains. Over the past 14 years, Pruzinsky had the opportunity to get to know a host of players. In the wake of his passing, dozens of those who spent time in the clubhouse with Pruzinsky began contributing to a fund to support his family.

Indians reliever started a GoFundMe page called, "The 26th Man -- Matt Pruzinsky." As of Tuesday evening, the account had collected more than $60,000.

, , , Josh Tomlin, , and Mike Clevinger are among the current Indians players who have donated. Former Cleveland players Nick Swisher, Travis Hafner and Jeff Manship, among others, also contributed. Former Tribe pitcher , who was at the Winter Meetings on Tuesday, donated and said he reached out to other former players to spread the word about the fund.

"I'm just so happy that everyone came together like they have to make this possible for Shannon and their future boys," Armstrong said via text. "He always went out of his way for everyone and I'm glad everyone is doing the same for him."

Schnacke, who is also at the Winter Meetings, was blown away by how the players came together to help create that fund, which has also had umpires, staffers from throughout the Indians' organization and plenty of others join the cause. After the Meetings, Schnacke said the Clippers will work with the Indians to ensure that the money gathered will be funneled directly to Pruzinsky's family. He would like to set up a college fund for the twins as part of the process.

"Everyone loved him," said Schnacke, who noted that Pruzinsky would work in the Clippers' offices during the offseason. "He would get anything for you. He such good care of everybody in the clubhouse. We're all shocked."

Both Wilkes and Amato noted that the role of a clubhouse manager can be much different at Triple-A than any other level.

During the season, there might be young players who are upset that they are not in the Majors, or veteran players dealing with a trip back down to the Minor Leagues. During Spring Training, when players are cut from big league camp and sent to the Triple-A clubhouse, Pruzinsky was often their first point of contact. He dealt with equipment and daily needs of players, also helping to organize housing or shipping of players' vehicles.

"Matt professionally and personally handled it so well," Amato said. "He'd come over and talk to those guys right away, and they were never upset with Matt. They loved and appreciated what Matt did. ... It was unbelievable the extent he went to impact their lives."

Indians assistant general manager Carter Hawkins, formerly the team's director of player development, said clubhouse managers are critical to the culture of an organization.

"Matt lived our values," Hawkins said. "You talk to ex-players and you ask them about different organizations, the first thing they often will say is how the clubhouse guys were. We've gotten a leg up in free-agent negotiations before because our clubhouse guys are great. But, even more than that, we're able to implement and sustain our culture, because of how good the clubhouse guys are.

"To lose somebody as special as Matt, it's just devastating. He was a teammate. He was a friend. Not just to our players, but to our front office as well. We're obviously thinking about his wife and his kids on the way."