Matt Stairs was a slow-pitch softball superstar

'He could hit it a country mile'

February 27th, 2022
Photo via Diamond Nation, Art by Tom Forget

A version of this story was originally published in May 2021.

There have always been rumblings and musings about it -- maybe more than any other player to ever play Major League Baseball.

"Matt Stairs, oh man, that guy would be so great at slow-pitch softball."

And it's true: he had that ferocious, grip-it-and-rip-it style home run swing, he had a fun-loving attitude and he also seemed like he might quite enjoy a beer or two. He's extremely well-qualified.

Well, what if I told you he did play -- both after and during his baseball career?

That he played in tournaments right after his 2008 World Series run with the Phillies? That he played on a team in Bangor, Maine, for four years called the Beef O'Brady's? That he hit a gigantic, light-tower-level homer against one of the best slow-pitch softball pitchers in the country? One that people I interviewed still shudder about today?

"It's softball, man," Stairs, who turns 54 on Sunday, told via phone. "You swing from your ass and see what happens."

From 2011 to 2014, the guy known as the Wonder Hamster -- the cult baseball hero who hit 265 home runs across 19 big league seasons -- played part-time on a USSSA slow-pitch travel team in Maine. He did it as a favor to a friend who ran the team, but also because he just really liked playing softball. You can look up his profile here. It unfortunately doesn't show any stats, but former teammate Miles Whitlock remembers Stairs doing pretty well.

"He could hit it a country mile," Whitlock told me over the phone. "He just killed some balls."

Stairs speaks about his slow-pitch softball career pretty matter-of-factly. (I get the feeling he talks about most things that way.)

"A friend of mine who was a golf buddy in Maine played on a softball team," Stairs recalled. "I said, 'What the hell, I'll play as much as you want.' We traveled around and we had a fun time with it."

Stairs talks about hitting a softball like it's a science, channeling his experience as a professional hitter and professional hitting coach for the Phillies and Padres after his playing career ended. He said he definitely had to change his swing a bit and think differently at the plate -- mostly because there were limits on home runs at tournaments.

"You had to catch things out front more," Stairs told me. "Standing more upright, having the hands a little higher, having happy feet where you're walking into the pitches instead of having a good base. Every at-bat, you're trying to shoot the middle or hit bombs to right field or, if you don't need a home run, you try to drive a ball to left field."

What did opposing teams think when they saw Matt Stairs taking BP pregame?

"Yeah," Whitlock laughs. "It was kinda like, 'How do you guys have an ex-Major Leaguer on your team?' Well, he lives in town where half the team's from. That's what it is. He has property in Bangor and he's friends with one of the coaches on the team and is just doing him a solid."

As a teammate, Whitlock said there were few better. Stairs was a legend in the southeast part of the state, helping out in the town and fully ingratiating himself within the community.

"He's the coolest dude," Whitlock told me. "He's just a regular guy and he would tell us all kinds of cool stories from life in the pros. ... Most down-to-earth, genuinely nice human being."

There's not much about Stairs' softball feats or games on the internet, but there was one tale on a softball fan message board about him playing in a tournament way back in November 2008. The user claimed Stairs hit a bunch of walk-off home runs that winter. You know, a month after Stairs, the greatest home run-hitting pinch hitter in MLB history, hit one of the most electric pinch-hit home runs in postseason history.

Could he really have gone out and played rec league slow-pitch softball after that? Just days after hitting such a historic home run at the highest level of baseball? It couldn't be true.

"Yup it is, yeah it is," Stairs said.

Stairs only played in a couple tournaments that winter, understandably tired from competing in the World Series just a month before. People were shocked to see him out there at the height of his fame, but also excited.

"The pitchers wanted to see how far I could hit it," Stairs said. "Guys weren't pitching around me, by no means. Let's face it: you don't walk people in softball. And you shouldn't walk in softball."

And then, there is one other tale, one other epic home run that everyone I talked to brought up.

It was March 2012, and Stairs' team was down at New Jersey's Diamond Nation for a national tournament. All the top teams and players along the eastern seaboard were in attendance. And there was one pitcher at the tourney who was considered one of the greatest to ever throw off a slow-pitch softball mound.

"Yeah, he was actually hitting against one of the better-known slow-pitch softball players," Whitlock said. "I think his name was Justin Mucciarelli -- he goes by Mooch."

"Justin Mucciarelli," tournament director Dave Bendel told me in a recent call. "He's arguably one of the best pitchers in the country for softball."

Mucciarelli's exploits are well-known in the softball circuit -- he's still traveling, playing and winning titles today. In USSSA softball, pitchers are allowed to hold the ball for five seconds before throwing and can pretty much do whatever they want with it. Mooch takes full advantage -- juggling the ball, juking throws, hacky-sacking and tossing the ball behind his back for a strike. It's pretty unbelievable watching him go to work.

So, that's who Stairs was set to face.

It was, of course, a hyped-up matchup. Announcements were made that the two would be squaring off and hundreds of people surrounded the main field at Diamond Nation.

"Everyone was talking about him throwing [a trick pitch]," Stairs remembered. "I stepped out and kinda laughed ... "

"The guy pump-fakes and pump-fakes and he's kinda showboating a little bit, taunting Matt," Whitlock recalled.

Mucciarelli threw his trick pitch. And, well, Stairs tattooed it.

Field 1 of Diamond Nation is a legit baseball field, so it's about 330 feet down the right-field line. Bendel told me he thought the ball went nearly 500 feet. It sailed high over some light towers in right-center and landed in center field of a field adjacent to it. Here's a visual of the mammoth shot.

"There's a water tower about a mile away, and people joked that he hit it over the water tower," Bendel laughed.

Bendel and Whitlock remembered the crowd being in absolute awe of what they'd just witnessed. Stairs told me, quite calmly, that he blasted it out of the stadium and over the light towers. He also, of course, had an unbelievable line after his moonshot.

"I turned to the pitcher and said, 'Hey, welcome to the big leagues.'"