Hometown hit

Erickson Achieves One-in-a-Million Dream

by Tim Froberg

Many dream of a life in professional sports, but few achieve it.

Matt Erickson is one of a tiny number who have turned a far-fetched fantasy into a professional career. As an added perk, the Appleton native gets to do it in his hometown.

Erickson is preparing to start his 11th season as manager of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers — the high Class A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers — and his 14th in professional baseball. Prior to launching his coaching career in 2008 as the Rattlers’ hitting coach, Erickson spent 10 seasons in pro ball as an infielder. He was a seventh-round draft pick by the Florida (now Miami) Marlins in the 1997 Major League Baseball draft and played four games for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2004.

“I haven’t worked a day in my life — which is unbelievable,” said the 45-year-old Erickson. “I feel fortunate. I got a chance to play at the highest level of baseball and then make an immediate transition to coaching. Being able to do that in my hometown is something that’s just not done.”

Erickson was a baseball, basketball, and football standout at Appleton West High School before taking his skills on the diamond to the University of Arkansas where he played from 1995-1997. Erickson grew up in a baseball family. His father, Bruce, is a member of the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame who coached for several seasons at Appleton North.

When he wasn’t in the Appleton North dugout as a batboy for his father’s teams, Erickson was watching minor league games at Goodland Field, the former home of the Appleton Foxes.

“If the opportunity in Appleton wasn’t available following my playing career, I probably wouldn’t have done this,” said Erickson. “I probably would have stayed around here and gotten into something else, like sales or teaching. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity and create relationships in Appleton.”

A love of the game and the ability to teach are what has kept Erickson in professional baseball.

“As both a player and coach, I always enjoyed the competitiveness,” Erickson said. “But along the way, I fell in love with the process. I enjoyed the work, the practices, the process of trying to get better, the step-by-step building it takes to create a culture. I believe that’s what created the longevity of my baseball career.”

Erickson is well-regarded in the Brewers’ organization. He is young enough and has the teaching skills to be coaching in The Show some day. But for now, he’s just happy to be coaching pro ball in his backyard.

“There’s been opportunities to go elsewhere and do other things, but I really enjoy what I do here,” he said. “I’ve been very honest with the Brewers and fortunately they’ve thrown me into some different situations — like doing some advanced scouting in the playoffs and going to the instructional league.

“I like where the organization is right now and what David (Stearns, the general manager) is doing. I feel good about where the organization is and my role in it.”

Erickson is looking forward to returning to games after the 2020 Minor League season was wiped out due to the pandemic. The Brewers used Neuroscience Group Field at Fox Cities Stadium as a training camp for several of their minor league players whom Erickson worked with daily.

For Erickson, the only bright side of the pandemic was that it gave him more family time. His wife, Julie, works in Appleton as a nurse, and the couple has three children: Maddox, a junior at Appleton High School, Aubrey, a sixth-grade student at Johnston Elementary School, and Emma, a second-grader at Johnson. Maddox was named after Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux, whom Erickson collected his first MLB hit off.

“That’s the silver lining of this,” said Erickson. “This is the first time I’ve been able to spend a significant time with them. Yes, I have a cool job, but sometimes it takes you away from home.

“With my wife being a nurse and all that’s happened during the pandemic, she’s had to spend a tremendous amount of time at work and our roles have kind of been reversed. It’s been great being at home hanging out with my kids.”