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A True Baseball Pioneer

Matt Righter’s prestigious experience in baseball has led him to coach Stevenson baseball

Matt Righter has stepped on many different baseball fields and has worn many different baseball uniforms in the past. He pitched on the mound at Fifth Third Field when he pitched for the Detroit Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens. He roamed Babb Field at Stromberg Stadium as a coach at Johns Hopkins University.

He has now officially stepped onto Owings Mills East for the first time as the head coach of Stevenson baseball.

It was bound to happen that Righter would create a life centered on baseball. He has fond memories of how it all began when he played catch with both his father and his grandfather. Both have had a major impact on the direction he has taken with baseball and coaching.

His grandfather had prestigious baseball experience, spending time around some of baseball’s most iconic names. A former top recruit for the Philadelphia Athletics and a World War II veteran, he grew up best friends with baseball Hall of Famer and former Dodgers manager, the late Tommy Lasorda. Righter was amazed by their friendship, and he even had a chance to meet Lasorda during Dodgers’ Spring Training in 2000.

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“[Tommy is a] great guy and a legend in baseball, that’s for sure!” Righter said. “Until the day my grandfather died, Coach Lasorda always treated my grandfather extremely well. I was always inspired by my grandfather’s story.”

Righter knew that he would be a baseball coach one day. That would have to wait until he completed his playing days. Righter was a 21st-round pick out of Johns Hopkins University by the Detroit Tigers in 2004. He spent five seasons in the Tigers’ organization, reaching as high as Triple-A Toledo before finishing his professional playing career in independent league baseball. His final professional season was spent with the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs of the Atlantic League, where he posted a 2.66 ERA and a 1.352 WHIP.

Righter spent quality time around some significant big league names including former Tampa Bay Rays slugger Matt Joyce, former speed demon Cameron Maybin, former Orioles pitcher Alan Mills, and multiple time Cy Young award winner and future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander.

Upon retiring from playing, it was Righter’s time to shine as a coach. For some time, Righter sought to become a basketball coach much like his father, who coached college basketball himself. In the end, he realized that his calling was on the baseball diamond.

“I always thought I would be a basketball coach, but my playing career ended up nudging me into a new direction,” Righter said. “As much as I love basketball, baseball has really grown on me and I can’t imagine doing anything else than being on the field with my guys.”

Righter’s coaching career began immediately after he retired from playing, returning to Johns Hopkins as a pitching coach. He was a part of the Blue Jays’ 2010 College World Series team and helped the program win four Centennial Conference championships. Following his return to Johns Hopkins, he served as the head coach at SUNY-New Paltz from 2013 to 2016. Following his time there, he had a seven-year stint at Vassar College in Dutchess County, New York. His last season with the Brewers garnered a program-record 20 wins.

Then, he found Stevenson University.

Righter had always known about Stevenson baseball dating back to his time at Johns Hopkins. He was always impressed with the program’s success and then-head coach Jason Tawney. Righter’s opportunity to coach at Stevenson became a reality last summer when he found that the head coaching position was open and that the university’s new athletic expansion, Owings Mills East, was open and in full swing.

“Baseball has really grown on me, and I can’t imagine doing anything else than being on the field with my guys.”

— Matt Righter

This was not just a new opportunity to coach for Righter, but for him and his family to return to the DMV area that they are very familiar with, having spent so many years there before leaving for Vassar.

“When I saw the position open, my wife and I agreed [for me to take it],” he said. “It was a great opportunity for both of us to get back to Maryland.”

His wife, Allison, has been his rock throughout his baseball journey, and he could not be more thankful for her.

“I’m very thankful for the support of my wife,” Righter said. “She’s from the Maryland area, and she trusted me when we went to New York and stayed for the last 10 years. She’s put up with a lot of tough weather, long doubleheaders and challenging situations in baseball and sometimes the curveballs in life. But she has continued to always be a rock for me and my family, and without her support, this would be much harder to do,”

On Aug. 22, 2023, Stevenson University announced the hiring of Righter as the program’s next coach, replacing Dave Gage, who was at the helm for the previous six seasons before taking a coaching job at Mount Saint Mary’s University.

During his time with the Mustangs so far, Righter has been impressed with what he has seen. His team is a lot younger with new recruits like Jake Treasure and Connor Wilkerson coming in and beloved veterans like Sam Downs, Trent Smoot, and Tommy Holcomb departing. However, he still has high hopes for the 2024 season.

“The guys work hard and care very much about baseball,” Righter said about his team. “We are definitely young and inexperienced, but very talented. I think we have a chance to compete in the MAC immediately. We will need some pitchers to step up and if that happens, there is no limit to how far we can go.”

In less than a year, Stevenson baseball first year head coach Matt Righter has already left a positive impact on his team and the Stevenson community. Photo: Grant DeVivo

The players have adored Righter’s presence so far. Players like senior infielder Ryan Lassiter have taken note of not only Righter’s competitiveness, but his way of making baseball a fun learning experience.

“Everyone is not only having fun, but learning the game as well,” Lassiter said. “He is a competitor in everything. He wants to win, but he also wants to develop great baseball players and better people. He brings a positive presence and is someone everyone wants to be around. He has great baseball knowledge that is going to help us win.”

While everyone wants to win, Lassiter recalls something that Righter told him and the team. He said that if you are not winning, you are learning.

“I know for a us as a young team, there is a lot of learning to do,” Lassiter said. “Coach has done a great job at helping us all adapt to the different challenges of the game to where everything that happens becomes second nature.”

One thing that Righter wants to see his players do is simply enjoy the game.

“For me, I would like to see our guys really enjoy the game of baseball,” Righter said. “It’s such a great game but the failure that happens so often in the game, can make it a difficult one to appreciate.” He wants the Mustangs to run towards challenges instead of running away from them. “I would love to see them learn to embrace the challenges and grind. It’s part of why it’s the best game of all time.”

Righter has an advantage over many coaches in the league, as he has seen the game through many different viewpoints, some of those coming from some of the highest levels of professional baseball. He looks to use those experiences and knowledge in his coaching strategy and pass on his knowledge to the Mustangs.

“The higher you go up, the faster the game becomes, and I think experiencing that has allowed for me to relate to guys in different ways,” Righter said. “There are some tricks to slowing down the game, and if I can teach some of that to our young guys, then I think it will all be helpful [to them].”

Righter has tons of knowledge. He has total confidence that his players will go far in the game and off the field in life. He wants players to know that he will always be there for them every step of the way, whether it they are winning championships together or whether they are winning life together.

“I’d love for my players to feel like I am fair, that I care about them and that with the right mindset and work ethic we can compete for championships together,” he said. “I’m also hopeful that I can be a mentor to them off the field. We have such a great group of guys and I have no doubt that they will continue to be wonderful husbands, sons and fathers. The game doesn’t always last forever for everyone and there are many things in life that matter way more than sport. I hope that I can help just a little bit in some of those areas.”

The players feel Righter’s infectious care and passion.

“He is personable, and you can tell that he takes pride in everything he does, and he cares about this team and the players individually,” Lassiter said. “He is someone that you can talk about anything with. It doesn’t matter if it is baseball, personal life, or even help job searching.”

Matt Righter, just two months after being hired by Stevenson University, hard at work during the first ever Mustang Tournament. Photo: Grant DeVivo

Righter does not limit sharing his knowledge to Stevenson baseball. He has interacted with Stevenson club baseball, who are led by head coach Zach Snyder and currently sit 9-2 (5-1 in conference) in the National Club Baseball Association DII Chesapeake Conference. Upon arrival, a goal of his was to bring both his team and Snyder’s team together. He did so with several conjoined practices in the fall and the first annual “Mustang Tournament,” where players on both teams came together to play a weekend of scrimmages in a point-based tournament.

Righter supports club sports, and he has enjoyed both interacting with Stevenson club baseball and observing the talent they have as a team.

“Playing together with the in the fall was a great opportunity to show how much everybody really enjoys the game,” Righter sad of club baseball and the Mustang Tournament. “I can tell how much the coaches and players on the club team enjoy baseball and I look forward to seeing how they do this spring. I was also really impressed with the club team talent and I feel like they are in a good position to go pretty far this year and hopefully win a national championship!

Righter has not been here long, but his impact on Stevenson baseball and Stevenson University is already being felt. He is extremely thankful for the reception that he has received in the Mustang community, and he has Stevenson baseball on the right track.

“I have been included in the SU community from day one,” he said. “It truly does feel like a family. I could not be more thankful to be here at Stevenson, and [I] feel like the future [of our program] is extremely bright.”

*Editor’s Note: Grant DeVivo is currently a catcher for Stevenson club baseball.

This story was originally published on Stevenson Villager on March 5, 2024.