Matt Williams has been doing it metaphorically and literally all his life. As a Major League Baseball player he made plenty of trips home and on Friday, he made a trip to his home.
The 1983 Carson High graduate who is now the Washington Nationals manager returned to the area to be the keynote speaker at the Bobby Dolan Dinner to benefit the University of Nevada baseball team at the Silver Legacy.
“For me, coming home ... I grew up in this area. That’s comforting,” Williams said while meeting with the media before Friday’s dinner.
And Williams noted he still maintains a close relationship with his high school baseball coach, the legendary Ron McNutt, who coached at Carson High School from 1976-2004 and at Galena High School from 2009-2014.
“I see him all the time,” said Williams, the current Washington Nationals manager. “Talk to him two, three, four times a year and see him quite often.”
When asked the influence McNutt had on him, Williams said, “a huge influence.”
Williams said he also remembers what baseball was like in this area when he was a youth and during his high school days. “This area was a baseball Mecca,” he said.
“There’s a lot of guys from the Reno and Carson areas who have made it,” said Williams about players making it to the Big Leagues. “I’m just happy to be one of them.”
Williams said it also was fun to talk to the University of Nevada baseball team, noting the team includes one Carson High player in Adam Whitt, who is the Wolf Pack’s top returning relief pitcher. Whitt had an outstanding summer last year in the Cape Cod League, the nation’s top summer college league.
With the Nevada baseball team, Williams said he stressed “the intricacies of the game. It’s fun to hit home runs and strike guys out.” But just as important are skills such as fielding and baserunning, Williams said.
Williams also has ties to the Nevada program as his son played for Wolf Pack coach Jay Johnson when Johnson was an assistant coach at the University of San Diego.
After the 2014 season, Williams was named as the National League Manager of the Year after leading the Nationals to the NL East title in his first season.
He admitted he doesn’t have as much time to come back to the area as he did when he was a player because of his managerial duties. But he did say “that’s part of the job and I love it.”
Being named manager of the year was the result of having “a fantastic team and a great coaching staff,” Williams said.
“I learned a lot of things last year,” he said. “I know every game presents a new kind of challenge.”
He said he learned from his players and admitted it was difficult “to be the new guy,” but added about his first year, “it was fun. We want to get back and play well, give ourselves an opportunity to get back to the playoffs and see what we can do.”
Williams was given the task of managing one of the most high-profile players in baseball in Bryce Harper, whose character has been questioned. But Williams said he sees nothing but good things ahead for Las Vegas’ Harper and another one of the Nationals’ high-profile young players, pitcher Stephen Strasburg.
“I think both of them are on their way to having very productive careers,” Williams said.
“I think he’s got a real promising future,” Williams also said about Harper. “The spotlight is a little bit brighter on him. He’s making the right strides he needs to make.”
If Harper continues to develop, he’ll become the Hall of Fame player everyone expects him to be, Williams said.
There’s another local connection to the Nationals in Galena graduate Steve LeRud, who signed a minor league contract with the team.
“He’s got some talent,” Williams said.
“We’re going to give a good look at him. We’re glad to have him.”