Matt Winn put a four- to five-year time limit on progression to the major leagues.
So after he was released by the San Francisco Giants in late May in what would have been his sixth minor league season, Winn figured the time had come to look into something else.
The former J.R. Tucker High and VMI alumnus is going through the application process to become a firefighter in Chesterfield County.
“I’ve always thought of what life would be after baseball,” said Winn, who has a degree in psychology. “I’ve asked myself, ‘Do I want to be doing sales? Do I want to be doing things by myself, or do I want to be part of a team where we basically are making people’s lives better?’ It’s almost like a no-brainer to me. I’d rather work in a team.”
His work as a catcher, particularly his throwing ability, was a major reason the Giants selected Winn in the 14th round of the 2015 draft. He spent five seasons in the minors, hitting .218 with 35 homers and 141 RBIs in 1,220 at-bats. From 2106 to 2019, he had stops with the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels.
Winn, 28, most likely would have been back at The Diamond this year. But with the minor league season halted by the coronavirus pandemic, and Major League Baseball making plans to cut 42 minor league teams, Winn was among hundreds of minor-leaguers who found themselves without a job as organizations pared their ranks.
“It happens,” said Winn, whose best season was 2016, when he hit .233 with 15 homers and 53 RBIs between Richmond and Class A Augusta. “It’s OK. I understand it’s a business.
“I was disappointed, but I kind of had a feeling last year. I didn’t really play that much [90 at-bats with Richmond]. I was on the phantom [injured list] quite a bit. I could kind of see the writing on the wall. That was kind of the point when I was really thinking about what I’d do after baseball.”
Winn said some independent teams reached out about playing. He played a couple of times locally. He’s caught in bullpen sessions and works out regularly at The Diamond, plus he’s helping coach two 16-year-old travel teams.
At this point, though, he’s pretty much set on trying to become a firefighter.
“I’m kind of getting tired of playing for a couple of grand a month,” he said. “I’m kind of getting up there in age. I’ve seen guys like that, kind of just journeymen through the minor leagues who get to the upper minor leagues but never get a chance to go up.”
“I want to stay here in Richmond because I love it here,” he added. “I love the community, and it’s done so much for me. I want to give back as much as I can.”
Winn (.181, four homers, 13 RBIs in 237 at-bats with the Squirrels) believes he made more of an impact off the field in Richmond. He was involved in a lot of the Squirrels’ community service, from youth league clinics to visits to hospitals to appearances at various functions.
“Our front office had him on speed dial,” said Todd “Parney” Parnell, Squirrels vice president and chief executive officer. “He understood what it meant to be a hometown player. … He was always willing to give of his time to his hometown.”
Winn was the first Richmond native to play for the Squirrels, and he said he was lucky to spend some of his minor league career here. He enjoyed having family and friends at games, something not many players experience, he said.
“I realize that not everybody can make it,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong. I made it a lot further than most people have, and I believe I made it further than I ever thought I could. … I’ve definitely exceeded my expectations for myself.”