Former Topper now an Angel

Josh Buckman

Last year the future of former Western closer Matt Wilhite seemed uncertain.

After not being chosen in the major league draft, the school record holder in saves (23) and career appearances (110), went to Wisconsin to play independent ball after last season.

But then Western coach Joel Murrie contacted his college roommate and current Anaheim Angel Rookie League manager Tom Kotchman to tell him about a pitcher Murrie believed could compete.

“I called up Tom Kotchman … and asked if they would be interested in signing Matt,” Murrie said. “They had a need for a pitcher at that time, and so they signed him.”

After a week in the land of cheese, Wilhite was pitching middle relief for the Provo Angels.

Making the most of his opportunity, Wilhite impressed most onlookers. In nine games, he posted a 2-0 record with a 2.95 ERA and 15 strikeouts. His stats were good enough to earn the closer spot where he posted two saves.

Wilhite’s stats helped him earn a promotion to the AA Arkansas Travelers, where he finished out the last month of the 2003 season.

So far this offseason he has been sharing Nick Denes Field and other baseball facilities with Western’s baseball team. It’s his way of staying in shape before spring training.

“It’s a great place to work out and get everything done that I need to,” Wilhite said. “Just look at all the facilities we’ve got now. When it’s cold we can go inside, and I can throw in there.”

Besides practicing, Wilhite also gets an opportunity to hang with his old teammates.

“It’s a lot of fun being here, being back around these guys,” he said. “You know a lot of the guys are new. I’m meeting a lot of the new guys.”

When asked the difference between college and professional baseball, Wilhite said that the level of hitters is incomparable.

“Everybody is good,” he said. “Everybody is striving to make it, but the main thing, especially pitching wise, is the hitters are so good that you don’t get away with a lot of mistakes. In college you can get away with some mistakes. In pro baseball it doesn’t happen too many times.”

On March 5, Wilhite will report to spring training in Mesa, Ariz. There, he will spend a month training and preparing for the new season. Coaches will evaluate after a month and decide what team and what level he will pitch, if any.

However he isn’t worried that it will be any harder than college.

“To me there’s no difference because you’re out there to pitch,” he said. “You’re out there to get people out to help your team out so you do the same thing. You try not to make it tricky.

“It’s always a game. You try not to make it – because you’re playing pro ball – mean that you put more stress on yourself and stuff like that. You’ve always got to play.”

Murrie said while Wilhite has shined so far, the best may be yet to come.

“You never know. He could pitch in the big leagues one day.”

Reach Josh Buckman at [email protected]