After a strong junior season at the University of Michigan (2011) in which he saw a large increase in velocity and innings pitched, Matt Broder had high hopes of hearing his name called in the MLB draft following his senior season. He had gone from minimal playing time coming from the bullpen in meaningless games to the team’s number two starter. As a 6’5″ left-handed pitcher, and a velocity averaging in the low 90’s, Broder’s future was looking bright.
Full of confidence and excitement about his future, he decided to play summer baseball in a collegiate league in Arizona. After a good first outing that summer, Broder noticed something was wrong when throwing the ball around the following day. He recalled a “strange pain in my biceps tendon” that left him on the sidelines for the remainder of that summer season. He began rehabbing immediately and continued throughout the first half of his senior (off-) season, but the pain would not go away. In February, two weeks before the season was set to begin, he had shoulder surgery.
Without a senior season in my resume and injury questions attached to my name, it was no surprise that I did not get drafted out of college.
He spent the next year and a half training and traveling all over the country attending tryouts for any professional team he could find. Although his arm was finally healthy after continuous rehab post surgery, his velocity was nowhere to be found.
“I was constantly clocked in the low-to-mid 80’s. These tryouts are not friendly to pitchers who are not lighting up the radar gun. Most of the time you’ve got between 10 and 20 pitches in front of the coaches/scouts all behind the catcher holding up their radar guns. During the few tryouts where you actually got to face live hitting, I actually did great. But unfortunately it was not enough. I was doing everything I could, but without those numbers on the radar gun no one was biting, ” reflected Broder about his realization that his once promising career had come to an end.
However Broder did not give up on his dream. After speaking with his former summer league coach who was then a coach for an independent league team, he was told they were looking for left-handed bullpen relief and that Broder should come out and prove he was healthy to earn a spring training invite. In the end Broder was again left on the sidelines as the club opted on two other lefties instead.
It was frustrating! But I knew I would not stop until I found a team.
After his last Indy-ball showcase, he was put in contact with a team in the Netherlands. Although the Dutch club decided to go with another pitcher, this opportunity had shifted Broder’s focus to overseas.
“When this Netherlands opportunity came up, I began to do all kinds of research surrounding playing baseball in Europe. This research led me to your site (www.internationalbaseballcommunity.com), which had an incredible amount of information regarding all levels of baseball in Europe. I immediately made a public profile for myself, and within days I was contacted by the Bad Homburg Hornets, who play in the 1. German Bundesliga,” said Broder about the break he finally caught.
Within a week and a half Broder was on a plane headed to Germany for the 2014 season.
I could not even begin to describe what it was like to finally get a second chance to play baseball again. I always knew I loved the game, but I never truly realized how much I loved it when I was unable to play.
Despite finished last in their division, Broder was impressed with the the presidium of the Hornets which had a lot of energy and high hopes for the future.
“They (the club), along with my teammates, treated me way better than I ever could have expected. I had a great apartment to live in, easy commute to the field, and I was always asked if there was anything I needed or anything they could do to make my time there worthwhile. They included me in every outside-baseball function so I was able to really grasp the German culture there in Bad Homburg and the surrounding towns, “ commented Broder.
Broder was also very impressed with the talent in Germany and compared the league to single A ball in the states. He was honoured when he was selected to the All-Star team where he got to spend the day with some of the best players in the country, getting to know them a little better aside from playing against them.
“Baseball, in Germany, is not the most popular sport. Saying that, those who play baseball are truly doing it because they love the game and want to learn how to play it to the best of their abilities. That energy was refreshing. Baseball was not a job to them, it was an exciting new game that they appreciated having the opportunity to play,” said Broder.
Myself and Broder at Finkstonball
Broder also got to see other parts of Europe as his team participated in, and won, the annual Finkstonball tournament in Attnang-Puchheim, Austria which features clubs from all over Europe. Broder was the winning pitcher in the championship game after allowing only one earned run in 7 innings of work. Off the field he managed to make his way to France on a 3-day mini vacation to Paris, which was only a 4 hour train ride from his location in Germany.
“My experience in Germany and playing for the Hornets was unforgettable, and something I would recommend to any player looking to continue their career overseas,” reflected Broder.
At the same time Broder was wrapping up a successful junior season in the Big Ten, 6’4″ left-handed pitcher Noah Shaw was wrapping up his junior season as well with the Lesley University Lynx in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Shaw finished his junior year as one of the nations leaders in strikeouts per 9 innings.
Like Broder, Shaw decided to take his career the summer collegiate route to further improve his game for his upcoming senior year. While on the mound that summer, Shaw heard a pop after dropping his arm too low on a pitch. The next day he was rushed back home to undergo Tommy John surgery.
After the surgery, Shaw pushed his recovery to only 8 months in order to compete in his senior year. As one might expect, things did not go well as his arm was not ready and therefore he was not able to return to his previous form. Any opportunities to play professional ball at that point were thrown out the window.
I really thought that was the end of baseball for me. I didn’t really find any opportunities because nobody was willing to take a chance on a 24 year old lefty with injury problems.
Shaw settled in to the workforce as he took a job as a personal trainer and as a bouncer. However his hopes to play the game again were revived when he stumbled across the International Baseball Community website, immediately created a profile and set his sights on European baseball.
Shaw caught his break when a second division Austrian club, the Traiskirchen Grasshoppers, contacted him to play ball for the summer of 2014.
“It was a wonderful opportunity, a wonderful blessing that I got to play for them, “ said Shaw when asked about his thoughts when given this opportunity.
Shaw also expressed that a key factor in helping him get this second chance was his willingness to commit to his Austrian club longer term as they were seeking some continuity within their youth coaching staff.
Although the Austrian second division is not at the highest level of baseball Europe has to offer, Shaw relished in this opportunity to revive his career and continue to play the game he loves. Despite a loss in velocity, the man with the Ultimate Warrior eye black was able to post a 2.45 era and a 9.8 k/9 ratio in his comeback year.
When asked about the level of play in the Austrian second division Shaw replied,
“It was a total shock. You are going to see some things that you haven’t seen before. You are going to see routine fly balls that are going to drop on a regular basis. You gotta learn to deal with it and to teach your teammates and these kids how to play.”
Shaw was very determined to leave an impression and network within the European baseball circles. He stayed in contact with me about playing in the Finkstonball tournament, the same tournament that Broder’s team the Hornets were in. Shaw worked his way not only onto the host team’s lineup, but managed to get the start in the opening game in front of a crowd of 800+ people which was heavily populated by teams from across Europe. The night before his start, while the rest of us enjoyed the concert and festival at the park until the wee hours of the morning, Shaw was sound asleep dreaming about baseball in his tent/fort we put together for him on the local high school gym floor.
In the opening game the next day Shaw held the Croatian team, the Hluboka Cardinals, to only 2 runs in the complete game win and left the impression that he wanted. In the semi final against Broder and the Hornets, Shaw even got to swing the bat and managed to get ejected during a bench clearing heated exchange of words between a couple of guys that got a little carried away during this so-called “fun” tournament. Broder remained on the bench focusing on the championship game.
When Shaw settled back in Traiskirchen to finish off the second half of the season, he decided to ride his overseas career wave as far as possible by getting an early start on winter ball opportunities in Australia. He began sending out feeler emails to clubs in Australia. At first he did not get much in return but he kept at it. Day-after-day he returned to the International Baseball Community website and emailed another 15-20 teams. Eventually he got a bite from a club in Queensland, Australia, the Pine Hills Lightening.
As his Austrian season came to an end, Shaw and the Grasshoppers found themselves out of the playoffs but had made huge strides with the youth program. For his performance on the field and as a coach, Shaw was invited back for a second season in 2015. But until then, next stop, Australia!
Listen to the audio interview with Noah Shaw on IBC Episode #41