The country song “I’ve Been Everywhere,” first a hit by Hank Snow in 1962 and later covered famously by Johnny Cash, rattles off nearly 100 different locations the narrator’s visited on his long and winding road.
Sounds an awful lot like the life of a minor league baseball player, and Matt Gage can certainly attest to that.
Gage hasn’t been everywhere (man), but the 2011 Broadalbin-Perth High School graduate has racked up plenty of traveling miles since being drafted by the San Francisco Giants out of Siena College in 2014.
Just since 2018, he’s called Richmond, Sacramento, Binghamton, Las Vegas, Sugar Land, Mexico City, Sugar Land (again) and Mazatlan his temporary home. And in the last few months, the 6-foot-4 lefthanded pitcher has added two more stops to his ticket, Amarillo and Reno, that just so happen to be mentioned in the first chorus of “I’ve Been Everywhere.”
“It’s back to the grind,” Gage said in a recent phone interview.
Plenty has changed for Gage since his time in the New York Mets’ minor-league system ended following 2018. A starter for most of his career, he’s worked exclusively out of the bullpen this year after signing a minor-league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
He’s also throwing harder. A lot harder.
Gage had a bone spur removed from his throwing elbow following the 2018 season, and over the last couple of seasons he’s made a few tweaks to his pitching mechanics that have dramatically increased his velocity.
“I went from in 2019 where I topped out at maybe 93 [mph], to where all of a sudden, I’m sitting from 93 to 96 and I’m topping out at 97,” Gage said. “All of a sudden, I was like, ‘Well, I guess this is a thing to stay.’”
At 28 and seven years into his professional career, it’s given him a renewed sense of energy.
“Changing everything,” Gage said, “it almost feels like I’m back to being 23.”
After his time in the Mets’ system ended, Gage was with the Colorado Rockies for spring training in 2019. On the last day of camp, his contract was bought out by Diablos Rojos of Mexico, and the Rockies released Gage to head down to Mexico City for the next adventure of his career.
He showed up in Mexico on a Tuesday, threw his first bullpen session the next day, and two days later was starting in front of 28,000 people — three times larger than any crowd he’d ever played before — while having to immediately adjust to playing at Mexico City’s elevation of 7,350 feet above sea level.
Following a strong 2019 season, Gage was prepared to play 2020 in Mexico, only for the novel coronavirus pandemic to throw a wrench into proceedings.
“All of a sudden, COVID happened and it put the brakes on everything,” he said. “Once the big leagues said, ‘We’re going to shut down,’ that had a trickle-down effect. We got sent home from Mexico and they said, ‘Yeah, it’s going to be a two-week thing.’ Nope. We didn’t have a season.”
Gage ended up in Sugar Land, Texas, playing for the Eastern Reyes del Tigre in the independent Constellation Energy League that was founded by legendary hurler Roger Clemens. It was Gage’s second trip to Sugar Land, having previously made a cameo with the independent Sugar Land Skeeters in 2018, when he played under current Tri-City ValleyCats manager Pete Incaviglia.
With the Reyes del Tigre, Gage got to play under former New York Yankees, Mets and Kansas City Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland.
Gage was “bouncing back and forth” between the bullpen and starting in 2020, and said he had interest from a handful of teams in the U.S. before getting an offer to head to Mexico once again to pitch for Venados de Mazatlan in the Mexican Pacific Winter League.
Back in Mexico, Gage was put up in a two-bedroom apartment by the ocean — the same complex, he said, where drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was arrested in 2014.
“I’d literally wake up and look at the ocean every morning,” Gage said. “It was awesome.”
Following his winter in Mazatlan, Gage came back stateside and threw twice for a Diamondbacks scout, earning another minor-league deal.
Assigned to Double-A Amarillo out of spring training, Gage dominated over seven relief appearances and less than three weeks later was called up to Triple-A Reno. All of a sudden, Gage was back in Triple-A West — called the Pacific Coast League when he pitched for the Sacramento River Cats in 2018 — dealing with thin air and hitter-friendly ballparks.
“A guy will hit a ball about 60 mph off the bat and it’ll be a double off the wall,” Gage said. “It’s that learning curve again.”
In 13 appearances with Reno, Gage is 1-1 with a 7.43 earned run average, but boasts a strong 18-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s adjusting to the concept of working consistently as a reliever, building himself up to being used on multiple consecutive days and often dealing with inherited runners on base.
“I’m still trying to get used to it,” he said. “I’m trying to change my whole aspect from trying to throw 88 down in the zone to get weak contact, to now throwing 95 up in the zone and trying to do other stuff.
“It’s definitely been a transition, for sure.”
All the while, Gage nearly had a very different summer.
Before pandemic-related shutdowns in 2021, Gage was due to be on USA Baseball’s roster for its 2020 Olympic qualifying tournament in Arizona. When the Americas Qualifying Event was held last month, Gage was again in consideration for the roster, but ultimately not selected, largely due to the unpredictable nature of his status within the Diamondbacks’ system.
Gage wasn’t on Team USA manager Mike Scioscia’s roster when it was announced July 2 — the pitching staff includes former MLB stalwarts like Scott Kazmir, Edwin Jackson and David Roberston — but said he’s continued to keep his paperwork up-to-date with the USOC’s COVID-19 liaison officers in case an injury comes up and he gets a late call to go to Tokyo.
“I’m still getting emails,” Gage said. “It’s still up in the air. It could still be a possibility. We’ll see.”
For now, though, Gage is focused on the daily grind of life in the minors. His time in Mexico could open avenues to eventually play top-flight international baseball in either Japan or South Korea, and he still harbors the dream of one day getting the call that he’s going up to “The Show.”
“It’d be great to be able to do that,” he said. “You’ve just got to keep waiting and seeing, trying to impress people, and that’s about it.
“If it’s your time, it’s your time. If it’s not, it’s not.”
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