Matt Antonelli: From Player to Coach and Face of Antonelli Baseball
When baseball players retire, they can go into many different fields. There is no script. Some, like former pitcher Bob Lacey, become teachers. Former reliever Pat Darcy – who gave up Carlton Fisk’s famous World Series home run off the pole – became a realtor. But a large portion go into coaching or onto television. Former infielder Matt Antonelli – who played in September 2008 for the San Diego Padres – is, in a way, doing both at the same time.
Matt Antonelli is well-known on YouTube as the face of Antonelli Baseball, a baseball academy and travel ball program in northeastern Massachusetts. His down-to-earth personality shines in his videos, whether he’s giving instruction, answering questions, or telling stories. He speaks in a way that makes it easy for novices to understand without insulting the intelligence of those who are familiar with baseball.
For someone who has been into baseball as long as Antonelli to speak in such a relatable way is no surprise. His dad, Jack Antonelli, was an athlete. During Matt’s childhood, he played every sport, but his two favorites were baseball and hockey. He went farthest with baseball. After being drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 19th round of the 2003 Draft, he played on the baseball team at Wake Forest University. In the first round of the 2006 draft, the Padres chose him with the 17th pick.
Matt Antontelli Always Knew He Would Be a Coach
Matt made the majors in September 2008. An injury forced him to miss the 2009 season. Unfortunately, he never returned to the majors, but he has used his vast baseball knowledge and his relatability into a successful coaching career. He pretty much knew all along that he would end up coaching. “I always knew I was gonna coach. Even when I was playing, pretty much all my years. I was always taking notes. I’d come in from spring training a lot and write down both what the day looked like and anything the coaches said that I thought was helpful. When (then-manager) Bud Black talked to the team, if he said something I found interesting, I’d write it down. So, for whatever reason, I knew I was gonna be in the game, and I was prepared for it.”
His desire to coach also started with his dad, who has coached both baseball and football at St. John’s Prep since 1999. “He played until he couldn’t play anymore, and then he coached,” Matt said, and “when I was playing, in the winter, during the off-season, I would come back and help him coach his teams in practice. I really enjoyed being around young kids and coaching and trying to teach them some of the things I’d learned through my career.”
The Birth of Antonelli Baseball
After Matt retired in 2013, he decided to stay in the game by coaching. “The only thing that was up in the air was what level I wanted to coach, whether I wanted to try to get back into high school, or college, or maybe even start a travel ball program. My dad was currently coaching in a travel ball program, and so we thought, ‘Why don’t we just start our own?’
“We started off small, and – at the same time, actually – I also decided that I wanted to go back and get my degree. I went back to Wake (Forest), I got my degree, and I also was the student assistant coach on the Wake Forest baseball team.
“At the same time I was running Antonelli Baseball. When I got back in the summer, I ended up coaching our 16-year-old team. I was doing both of those, and I wanted to see what I liked more. I ended up taking another job at (the College of the) Holy Cross. I ended up doing that the next year, while still doing Antonelli Baseball. Then, after two years, I decided – my son was born that year, and I said, ‘You know, I’ve been traveling a lot for college,’ and I decided I wanted to stay closer to home.”
The Practice Philosophy of Matt Antonelli
That’s when he took over Antonelli Baseball. The academy has players practicing at a high level from the beginning. That cannot happen without the right attitude. “We always tell our players to train to enjoy the game, but if you’re gonna be a good player, you’re gonna have to enjoy practicing. You probably practice more than you play in games.”
They try to make practice harder than the game. “Baseball’s one of those weird sports where a lot of players practice below game speed. There’s a lot of batting practice, which is throwing it pretty slow. Typically, coaches are hitting ground balls and fly balls that really aren’t realistic. We’ve become cognizant of that, and so, through a bunch of different ways, we try to make the practice a little bit harder than the game.”
Sometimes they use a machine and turn the speed way up. On defense, the coaches try to get grounders and fly balls to the players in a more game-like manner. When Matt works with his younger players – something he does a lot – he’ll “get out there and try to hit the ball almost as hard as I can to simulate a ball that’s going to be a lot harder than any ball they get in a game.”
The Influence of Bud Black
Those from the press who deal with Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black have nothing but good things to say about him. His players absolutely love him. Matt was around him more than any other major league manager, so it is only natural for Matt to have picked up some of his better traits. “He was a great communicator who did a good job of bringing the team together. It felt like a family-type culture. He knew everything about everyone. I’d talk to minor league guys about this. If you were walking down the hallway, he would know guys that I didn’t even know how he knew them. Guys who weren’t even in the big leagues. He’d ask how their family was doing, and it felt genuine. I always liked that about him.
“Later in my career, when I knew, pretty much, that I wasn’t gonna make it back in the big leagues again, I remember I was stretching in the corner during spring training. He came over to me and said, ‘Hey Matt. I know you’re going through a rough time, but you’re gonna have a big-league career. A long big-league career.’ I said, ‘Thanks, Bud. I appreciate that.’ That’s all he said, and he walked away. I never did have a long big-league career, but the fact that he came over and said that, it seemed like he was really, really nice and cared about his players. So, I try to be that way.”
Matt Antonelli on YouTube
While Matt was playing – either in 2008 or 2009 – he started posting instructional videos on YouTube. He did it to help his dad’s players. “I thought it would be nice to put up videos so guys could see what we were talking about, and so I started with the instructional help videos.”
Matt has continued doing so since then through the Antonelli Baseball YouTube channel. However, his views soared about three years ago. “I was getting questions like, ‘What’s it like in a major league clubhouse?’ and all this stuff. I had some interesting things to draw from. That video, like a day later, had more views than I probably had in the previous seven years for all my videos combined. (I saw that people wanted to watch this type of stuff.) In the last three years, I think I’ve probably put up at least one video every day on YouTube. I realized that it was helping Antonelli Baseball. It was giving us free advertisements, and it puts me in contact with a lot of people. I end up talking to people all over the country, even all over the world. I get questions from everybody.”
He still posts videos answering questions about Major League Baseball and showing baseball instruction. However, in late 2019, he started posting videos of himself playing MLB The Show 19, and he still does so with the latest version of the game.
The Future of Antonelli Baseball
Antonelli Baseball started small, with 35-40 kids in the organization. Now they have almost 200. Matt says that the next step probably is to get an indoor facility of their own. The New England weather is such that they are indoors six months out of the year.
Size-wise, they’re about where they want to be. “I want to make sure we’re still giving good value to the players and to their families. I’d kind of like to be able to coach and be there for all of our players…” They’ve had dozens of alumni go on to play college ball, which is one of their biggest goals. In 2019, two of their alumni – reliever Jackson Gillis and infielder Spencer Brown – were drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Angels, respectively. Matt, Jack, and the rest of the Antonelli Baseball staff, of course, want to keep that going. “We want to continue to help guys advance in the game, and to be able to do that with my dad is great. It’s been fun.”
For Love of the Game
Given how much Matt loves baseball – and given how much he’s learned during his years in the game – the players are in good hands. It is only natural that the players are successful. “Baseball…is a great game, but it’s also a difficult game. It’s a tough game mentally – more so than any other sport. It’s the toughest game on you mentally, at least of any of the sports I ever played. I find that I get joy out of being able to get players to play a tough game and play a little bit better. Cause there are a lot of periods in your career where – especially professionally – where you’ll just get down, the game will beat you up a bit, and I learned some things that really, really helped me out. From some great players there are a lot of things that I’ve learned.
“I just love being around the game, around it as a fan, watching the game. But then to be able to be a coach and have an impact on the younger players and stuff – I really, really enjoy it.”