Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
High-A Affiliate
The Official Site of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers Wisconsin Timber Rattlers

T-Rat Talk: Matt Erickson

In No Hurry to Leave
September 7, 2021

There wasn’t much pre-game fanfare before the Timber Rattlers’ series opener against the Cedar Rapids Kernels on May 25, but the crowd in attendance was nonetheless about to witness a little bit of history. That evening’s contest featured a matchup of the two longest-tenured managers in the High-A Central League’s

There wasn’t much pre-game fanfare before the Timber Rattlers’ series opener against the Cedar Rapids Kernels on May 25, but the crowd in attendance was nonetheless about to witness a little bit of history.

That evening’s contest featured a matchup of the two longest-tenured managers in the High-A Central League’s West Division: Cedar Rapids manager Brian Dinkelman, who joined the team for the 2019 season, was at the helm for his 159th game. Timber Rattlers manager Matt Erickson, meanwhile, turned in a lineup card that day for the 1266th time.

Minor league managerial jobs usually feature extremely high turnover, and 2021 has been no exception. Eight of the High-A Central League’s 12 managers (including 2005 Timber Rattlers manager Scott Steinmann, now with Lansing) are in their first season with their current team, and another rejoined his team after two seasons away. That leaves just three who were with their clubs at the end of the 2019 season: Erickson, Dinkelman and Anthony Contreras of Fort Wayne.

Even among that small group, however, Erickson stands out. The 2021 season is his tenth managing the Timber Rattlers, a rare opportunity for an extended stay in the community that also happens to be his hometown.

“I do not take it for granted,” Erickson said. “Every single day I appreciate the opportunity I’ve been given by the Milwaukee Brewers. I’ve been able to not only do this in my hometown, but with a group of people here that run the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers that make it a great place to work. I’ve developed friendships with those people, not only business relationships.”

Erickson, who made his major league debut as a player with the Brewers in 2004, rejoined the organization shortly after the end of his professional playing career in 2007. After two seasons as the Timber Rattlers’ hitting coach he took over the reins as manager in 2011 and has been there ever since. In the decade before Erickson’s promotion the Rattlers had seven managers: Gary Thurman (2000-02), Daren Brown (2003), Steve Roadcap (2004), Steinmann (2005), Jim Horner (2006-07), Terry Pollreisz (2008) and Jeff Isom (2009-10).

Even for a veteran manager, however, the 2021 season has featured some new experiences. As part of the restructuring of the minor leagues the Rattlers moved up a level this season and now play High-A baseball for the first time. It’ll take time, however, for the full impact of the move to set in. In the short term, Erickson noted that the unique situation stemming from the cancelled 2020 season is playing a role in the experience of his first season at this new level.

“I think I got that question a lot this year, ‘what are the differences between High-A and Low-A?’ and I don’t think we really got a sense of High-A. We didn’t have professional baseball for a whole calendar year, and I think we definitely had a hybrid of A-ball this year. I think we had High-A talent on our roster, for sure, but we have a lot of first-year professional players too. I don’t care how talented you are, until you go through that and can experience what that entails on your body, and what you ask yourself to do on a daily basis, I don’t think you truly understand and get the best out of yourself,” Erickson said.

In addition to the new level and the challenge of bouncing back from a lost season, Erickson and his staff are also managing something they’ve never dealt with before: the ongoing management and protocols related to a global pandemic.

“I think it was a big responsibility that we all had to get educated on and try to understand,” Erickson said. “Now moving forward, as we go through this, we have a vaccination available to us, we still have a choice on what we do and put in our body, but I love the fact that a lot of guys continue to make choices, both in the clubhouse and in their personal lives, based on the clubhouse and the people that they’re around. I feel good about the team we have and how they appreciate others, and being responsible for their role not only as a professional baseball player but as a human being and doing what they can to help keep each other safe.”

Even while managing those ongoing changes and challenges, however, Erickson is proud of the work he and his coaching staff have done to help generations of young players reach their potential.

“Every year it’s different personalities, different goals, different skill sets, but the end goal is the same: You’re trying to help players get better,” Erickson said. “They tend to go at their pace, some of them get better a little quicker than others, but I think over the years we’ve created a great atmosphere here, the coaching staff in Appleton, to help players get better in some way, shape or form on and off the field. So I feel really good about what we’ve been able to accomplish here with the time we’ve had and the players we’ve had.”

As the season winds down, there’s always the temptation to look ahead to the future. Erickson said he’s been contacted about the possibility of managing in the Arizona Fall League this year, if it returns from its 2020 hiatus. Any coaching plans beyond that, however, have yet to be determined at this point.

“I’m very much in the moment. I preach that to our players. I understand the need for preparation and planning, but I think we live in a world that’s very day-to-day, and adjustments are constantly being made. I ask that of our players and our coaches, and so I try to live my life that way,” Erickson said.

In the meantime, Erickson will be doing another kind of coaching this winter: Third grade girls’ basketball.

“My youngest daughter, Emma, is now getting into the basketball realm. I really enjoy the wintertimes with my kids. Maddux (Erickson’s son) is now into snowboarding and has given up basketball but plays football and baseball in high school, but the two girls are highly involved in basketball and I enjoy the game, so I get to spend a lot of time with them during that time when I’m home,” Erickson said.

Beyond that, Erickson’s coaching career may take him out of Appleton someday, but he’s in no hurry to move on.

“It’s a tough place to leave,” Erickson said. “I’m not dying to get out of here, for a multitude of reasons. I enjoy spending time with my family, I enjoy coming to this ballpark and this facility, and the type of athlete that we get. It’s a younger athlete, most of them are hungry for information and ways to get better. You see them get challenged, and a lot of them get challenged for the very first time in their lives in the game of baseball, so they deal with some adversity and you help them through that. I really enjoy the level and the town, obviously, getting to be a part of the team and the community. So, again, I’m very appreciative of that. I understand that this isn’t something most professional coaches have the opportunity to do.”