Life is full of surprises.
And sports, as part of life, is full of surprises, too.
Just ask Will Matthiessen, a 2016 West Linn High School graduate who recently completed his freshman season as a member of the Stanford University baseball team.
Just over a year ago, Matthiessen had completed his star-studded career at West Linn as the top-ranked third baseman in Oregon and signed his deal to play at Stanford. He left West Linn as a four-time all-Three Rivers League and two-time all-state infielder, as well as a two-time member of the Perfect Game All-West First Team.
Time to work
When he arrived at Palo Alto, however, Matthiessen knew he'd likely have to bide his time since the Cardinal returned starters at both third and first base, his two preferred defensive positions.
So Matthiessen went to work. He went to work in the classroom and he went to work on the ball field, taking his best shot at proving himself at the Division 1 level during the Cardinal's fall ball season.
While he worked on his hitting and defense, and tried to figure out where he belonged, Matthiessen got the chance to pitch a little, too, and that was the genesis of his surprising freshman campaign.
A surprise on the mound
He threw well enough in the fall to get his coaches' attention, and when the spring season rolled around, his chance to play came not in the infield but on the mound.
Facing Cal State Fullerton — an eventual 2017 World Series team — back on Feb. 19, Matthiessen retired all six batters he faced in his college pitching debut.
He made another shutout appearance in his second chance, then did it again in his third, fourth and fifth appearances. Indeed, before he finally gave up his first collegiate run, Matthiessen had pitched 16 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball against some of the best teams on the country.
"I didn't expect to pitch too much because I hadn't talked to the coach about pitching (before arriving at Stanford)," Matthiessen said. "I came in in the fall and hit OK, not great, but OK, but I actually ended up pitching really well and I kept throwing well the rest of the way."
By season's end, Matthiessen had made 20 relief appearances and put together a 3-0 record with a 2.33 ERA with three saves, 32 strikeouts and just nine walks in 38 2/3 innings pitched.
"I'm really fortunate I was able to find a middle relief role and take advantage of some opportunities early in the season and gain our pitching coach's trust," Matthiessen said. "It was definitely a pleasant surprise."
The surprises continue
The surprises continued for Matthiessen and the Cardinal, too. During his solid spring season, Matthiessen made more memories including:
• He was second on team in ERA and third on the team in appearances.
• He combined on the program's fifth one-hitter during a three-inning save against Kansas on Feb. 24.
He threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings and allowed just two hits while striking out three and walking none in two regional appearances (both against Cal State Fullerton).
• He earned a one-out save at Cal Berkeley on May 14.
• He earned a win with three scoreless innings against Long Beach State on March 28.
• And he earned a save with four scoreless innings against UC Davis on Feb. 28.
While Matthiessen always knew he could pitch — he was a three-time all-league pitcher at West Linn — it was still a bit of a surprise that he found his first Division 1 playing time on the mound.
"I actually was recruited mainly as an infielder. That's what I was kind of focused on in high school," said Matthiessen, who also served as West Linn's Friday starter for his last three years of high school. "It's not that I don't like to pitch — I do enjoy pitching — it's just not what I was expecting to do when I got down to campus."
Aiming at the infield
While Matthiessen made his major college debut as a pitcher, he still has hopes of returning to infield play and getting to swing the bat regularly. Former Stanford coach Mark Marquess — he recruited Matthiessen to Stanford before retiring at the end of the 2017 season — always made sure that Matthiessen got his reps in practice at either first or third base, and made sure Matthiessen got plenty of batting work, too.
Further, Marquess made sure to tell new coach David Esquer — a former Stanford player and assistant coach under Marquess — that he hoped that trend would continue.
"I was a little worried that they would just stick me as a pitcher and not let me hit, but our head coach was very adamant about me taking reps every day, taking batting practice to work on my swing as well as (working) with the pitchers," Matthiessen said. "Now that he's gone, I was talking with our new coach the other day and he said one of the main things (Marquess) told him was that he should really let me swing the bat so I was happy to hear that. I'd like to do both as long as I can."
The best of both worlds
Indeed, Matthiessen would like to have the best of both worlds at Stanford on one of the best teams in the nation. The Cardinal went 42-16 overall in 2017, 21-9 in the Pac-12 (where Stanford was second to Oregon State) and eventually ended its year in the NCAA Regional final, falling one game short of a berth in the Super Regionals.
Matthiessen pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings against Cal State Fullerton in the regional championship, and struck out the only batter he faced in his team's previous regional game against Fullerton.
"We were lined up in perfect position," Matthiessen said. "We were one of the top teams in the country. We were scheduled to go to Omaha. We believed we were going to go to Omaha — it just didn't work out. Still, it was a great season."