The following is a guest post written by 38th pick of the 2018 draft, Matthew Klug.
June 6th, 2018.
“The Chicago White Sox select draft ID 4549. Klug, Matthew. Outfielder, Brookwood High School. Snellville, Georgia.”
That day, my life changed forever. Every young baseball player dreams about hearing their name called in the MLB Draft one day, but few actually get to experience that moment. I was lucky enough for that dream to become reality for me… but not because of talent. Not because of on-field ability. I was drafted by the Chicago White Sox strictly because of my attitude and character. That sounds crazy, but I can explain.
Everyone remembers who their first true childhood best friend is. For me, that best friend is Sammy Swaney. From the time we were five years old, we grew up playing baseball together, forming an unbreakable bond both on and off the field.
When Sammy stepped up to the plate, you knew there was a chance that he would put one over the fence. He was a home-run hitter, and he even became known as the park’s “Home Run King” because he always led the league in bombs. Even as he grew up and began to play on bigger fields, he continued to impress everyone with his ridiculous power.
Sammy was a year younger than me, so as I wrapped up my freshman year of high school, he was getting ready to enter his. I attended Brookwood High School while Sammy was preparing to start his high school career at South Gwinnett High School – our crosstown rival. Needless to say, I was excited to play against him in the coming years.
But we never got that chance. While no pitcher could ever figure out how to get Sammy out, life threw him and his family a curveball that was picked up too late.
A brain tumor.
Sammy went to lay down one day because he simply did not feel good, and that’s when the Swaneys’ world was turned upside down. The tumor caused him to not wake up, and he passed away at the young age of 15 on November 27th, 2015.
Freshman in high school. Two months away from his first high school baseball season. A whole life ahead of him.
Little did we know, this was only the beginning of three straight November Nightmares for my family and everybody close to us.
My mom was sick my entire life. Before I was even born, she had major lung problems. In 1999, a year prior to my birth, a doctor told her that she had the worst lungs that he had ever seen on a 40-year-old woman. He gave her five years to live.
Although she continued to live way past those five given years, she faced many health problems along the way. When I was eight-years-old, she began to rely on oxygen tubes to breathe. When I was 12-years-old, she required her oxygen 24/7. I don’t have many memories of Mom without an oxygen tube in her nose.
Looking back throughout my life, it would be hard to count how many times Mom was in and out of the hospital. She would go in for a few days while they got her breathing straightened out, and she would be on her way home. Hospital stays and doctor visits became so routine for Mom that you could tell when something felt different… and this was definitely the case in November of 2016.
Mom went into the hospital on November 8th, and we were thinking that her visit would be “normal”: she would stay a few days and be home soon… but this was not the case. After a few days in the hospital, something just did not seem right.
She was not feeling better, and it became a struggle for her to stay awake. After a couple of days of watching her struggle to stay awake and out of confusion, the sad reality began to sink in.
Mom would not be here much longer.
It got to the point where if she did wake up, she was extremely confused and in pain. It became clear that it time was almost up, and they did everything they could to keep her comfortable for her last days with us.
On November 15th, 2016 – less than a year after Sammy passed – Mom took her last breath. She was only 57 years old. Suddenly, our family became even smaller. With my brother and sister both being older, it was now just me and Dad in the house.
It was tough and strange with it just being me and Dad, but baseball season was right around the corner. The season started in January, so I had some time to soak everything in after Mom’s passing in November.
The first season without Mom was extremely weird. Although she could never attend many games due to her health problems, Dad and I would go home and share everything about the game with her. She hated not being able to go, but she loved hearing how the games went.
It was tough not being able to tell her about it.
As high school season passed and summer ball came along, things began to feel normal again. I was back on the grind of going to tournaments, and Dad was back on the grind of driving me to those tournaments. We were back to long days, sunburns, and road trips – and we would not have wanted it any other way. Me, Dad, and baseball… that pretty much sums up my childhood.
Sadly, what also sums up my childhood is not only Mom’s health, but Dad’s health also. He was never sick, never at the doctor… he barely ever caught a cold. That’s why the news in 2010 was so shocking to everyone around us.
Dad was diagnosed with cancer.
He had multiple myeloma, a cancer that attacks the healthy blood cells in your bone marrow. Luckily, after countless rounds of chemo and a stem cell transplant, Dad was on the road to recovery. He returned back to almost normal, and it stayed that way for a few years.
Until that summer that I was just talking about.
His cancer started to return, and this time, it was more aggressive. This was expected eventually, but not that soon. Throughout that summer, there were many games and road trips where Dad did not feel great, but he did a great job of hiding that.
He would say, “I’m fine! Stop worrying about me. I’m alright.” He was tough… and stubborn.
Eventually, we caught on that something was definitely wrong with dad. While my teammates and friends were preparing for fall baseball, my family and I were too busy worrying about Dad. As the calendar moved into the fall, it felt like the cycle was restarting. Dad was getting back into the routine of going to chemo multiple times per week, and his prescriptions were adding up again.
The nightmare was only beginning.
It got to the point where Dad was spending more time at the hospital than at home. They were struggling to keep his cancer numbers down, and he just could not stay out of the hospital without needing to go back. Little did we know, this would become reality for two months.
Over the span of nine weeks, Dad spent less than ten nights at home – total. The hospital bed became more common than his own bed, and the hospital room became more common than our living room.
While we hoped that things would improve, they did not. Suddenly, our world was suddenly flipped upside down yet again.
On November 27th, 2017, two years to the exact day that Sammy passed, cancer took Dad’s life after seven years of fighting.
17 years old.
Senior in high school.
Both parents gone.
Although I could not possibly ask for better siblings, nothing can compare to your parents. I was in the middle of senior year when Dad passed, and I suddenly had no parents to celebrate the end of my high school career with. Prom, baseball season, senior night, playoffs, my last ever baseball game, graduation… all of that passed without my parents there to see it. All of that does not even include the yearly gatherings such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays… no parents. Of course, I know they were watching over me, but it’s just not the same.
May 15th, 2018 was my last ever baseball game – a loss in the final four. One step away from the state championship, and suddenly my baseball career was over. Graduation was in a week, and suddenly I was preparing to leave behind the sport that I loved more than anything.
Little did I know, I was about to experience the best baseball moment possible, which was getting drafted. But… throughout this whole story, I haven’t mentioned a single on-field accomplishment, which is because there weren’t many. I didn’t even play much last season. How does that happen?
What I didn’t mention is the fact that despite dealing with the loss of two parents and a childhood best friend, I stuck through it and kept my head up every single day. It crossed my mind to just quit, knowing that I was dealing with way too much, but that’s not what Mom, Dad, or Sammy would have wanted.
Keeping my head up and staying positive was much more important than anything I could have done on the field. Until late in the season, I had no idea about how many people knew my story. I thought I was just staying quiet and helping my team make our playoff run.
But my positivity did not go unnoticed.
Thanks to my head coach, Coach Titus Marin, the Gwinnett Daily Post (the local newspaper) did an article about me and my positivity. This sparked a train of events that I will never forget.
I was nominated for the Positive Athlete award – an award that recognizes an athlete’s off-field accomplishments and character.
I received the annual Jacob Oldknow Heart of a Bronco Scholarship at our banquet, named after a young man who battles Cerebral Palsy. The scholarship goes to someone who keeps a great attitude and works hard despite dealing with tough circumstances.
I went on to receive the Gino Vizzi Courage and Perseverance Award at our county awards ceremony. Gino is a young man who played high school baseball up until he was diagnosed with cancer. He had to stop playing baseball in order to focus on getting treatment.
I received news that after being nominated for the previously mentioned Positive Athlete award, I was lucky enough to receive it. I was named the most positive baseball player in Gwinnett County.
Shortly after, I received the Gino Vizzi Character Award at another county ceremony. Another award in Gino’s name, both of which are solely focused on a player’s character.
A few nights after receiving that award, I attended the statewide Positive Athlete Award Ceremony at the College Football Hall of Fame. At this ceremony, I was named the most positive baseball player in the entire state of Georgia. I thought this was the peak.
But it wasn’t.
The next day, I was drafted by the Chicago White Sox. Even though I’ll never step into the box for the organization, it’s still a dream come true.
In August, my brother, sister, and I flew up to Chicago to visit Guaranteed Rate and meet everyone that made it happen. The night before attending a game, I was able to meet Kevin Burrell, the area scout that drafted me.
The next day was truly the coolest experience of my life. We went to Guaranteed Rate and we were treated as nothing less than family. I was able to visit the clubhouse and meet every single coach and player, even getting the chance to talk to Jose Abreu through a translator. That was awesome.
We got a private tour of the entire facility, taking as much time as we wanted. Once returning back onto the field, I threw out the first pitch.
When you first started reading this, I told you that I was not drafted because of any on-field ability. Now you know what I was talking about.
Every single day can be a good day or a bad day. It’s up to you to decide which it’s going to be.
I have since gone on to co-found a non-profit organization, November Smiles, to help kids who experience loss – just like I did. To learn more about November Smiles, please visit the Sox On 35th article about our organization.
Thank you for taking the time to read about my story. The support I have received from the South Side has been amazing, and I truly could not have been welcomed into a better organization.
Thank you, Chicago. Go White Sox.
38th round draft pick,
Featured Photo: Chicago White Sox