Matt LaPorta hasn’t yet taken Cleveland by storm, but Indians fans shouldn’t lose faith in the slugging outfielder. Rated by Kevin Goldstein as the top prospect in the organization coming into this season, LaPorta hit just .190/.286/.286 in 13 games during a brief callup in May before being sent back to Triple-A Columbus for more seasoning, but his future remains bright. Acquired from the Brewers in last July’s CC Sabathia trade, the 24-year-old University of Florida product still projects as an impact player who will provide both on-base skills and power. LaPorta is hitting .307/.391/.544 with 17 home runs for the Clippers (through August 15).
David Laurila: How would you assess your professional career thus far?
Matt LaPorta: I think that it’s going well. I’ve had a chance to play in the big leagues a little bit, and I learned a lot while I was up there. Baseball is a game where you continue to evolve and become a better player. I don’t think you’re ever at your max, to be as good as you’re going to be. I think that you get better with every pitch and with every at-bat in games.
DL: You’ve had pretty high expectations placed upon you. Did you find yourself pressing more than you expected you might when you got to the big leagues?
ML: No, not really. I mean, as a team, we were struggling up there a little bit, in the big leagues, so I didn’t put any more pressure on myself other than that I wanted to go out there and just help the ball club, and to play as well as I know how to play.
DL: Thinking back to the two times you were drafted but didn’t sign, how much did money and education factor into your decisions?
ML: Really, a lot of it was education. That’s something that’s tough to get back if you pass up on a college education. I’m not saying that you can’t do great things without a college education, but it definitely helps out, so it was important to me to get to that point. As for the money, not a whole lot. I mean, I really just wanted to go back to school. There were a lot of people who thought I was crazy for going back, and I wanted to show them that it’s not about me, it’s about God. I really tried to be an example of that when I was back in college for my senior year.
DL: What about the historical significance of the teams that had drafted you: the Cubs out of high school, and the Red Sox after your junior season at the University of Florida? Both are obviously storied franchises.
ML: That was tough, because my grandfather… you know, they’re all from Chicago and we grew up Cubs fans, as a kid watching them on WGN, and stuff like that. And being a Red Sox would have been great too, because I really came to enjoy watching them play, with the atmosphere and the fans there. Playing in the Cape Cod League, and getting a chance to go over there, it’s a great place to play ball, I’m sure.
DL: How did getting traded early in your career impact the way you look at the game?
ML: It’s definitely a business, but first and foremost, for me, it’s about coming out and having fun. The day that I’m out here and I’m not having fun playing ball, that’s the day I stop playing. That’s because it’s not about the money for me. It’s about enjoying myself, and really just being, again, an example for God out here.
DL: There is, by definition, a separation of church and state. Is there also a separation of church and professional baseball, or can players feel free to share their religious beliefs in the clubhouse?
ML: Yeah. I mean, in the locker room, a lot of things go. For me, if somebody has different beliefs than I do, it’s always enjoyable to listen to what they have to say, because it’s a learning experience to hear where they’re coming from. There is also where I’m coming from.
DL: Does that happen enough in everyday life, people sharing their different religious beliefs among each other?
ML: No, I don’t think that it happens frequently enough. I think that a lot of people are timid to profess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. As for other religions, whatever the case may be… I think that people are content with just knowing that they’re doing the right thing, and not helping their cause out.
DL: Why do you think there are so many different religions in the world?
ML: I think that we, as humans, want something for a higher power. We want to look at something that is greater than us and what we have going on in our present life. It’s very intriguing to me that so many people feel that way. So many people believe in different things, but they all believe that there’s something higher and greater than them.
DL: Because of the inevitable disagreements, it has been said that religion ultimately causes wars. What are your thoughts on that?
ML: I’m sure there’s some theory behind that, it might be true and whatnot, but people disagree for millions of different reasons, with religion just being one of them. There are a lot of reasons why people disagree. It doesn’t have to just be religion, in my opinion. Money… people disagree over that. Wars are over money, and power, and different things.
DL: You’re married. How does that impact your baseball life?
ML: It helps me stay grounded, and stay focused, because now I have a family to provide for, and care for. It’s not just me that I’m looking out for. But, again, it helps me to realize that there are bigger things in life than baseball. One is to be a supportive husband and to be there for my wife.
DL: Are you concerned about the impact that a baseball lifestyle has on a marriage, like the time spent away from your family and the possibility that you could be traded again and have to relocate to another city?
ML: I’m not. We don’t have any kids or anything like that, so right now it’s fine. And our relationship is based on God. That’s not to say that we’re not going to have tough times in our marriage, because everybody does, I’m sure, but I think that we’ll be able to handle those tough times.
DL: You were hit in the head by a pitch in the Beijing Olympics. How much did the fact that you were playing China, in an international setting, impact the way you, and your teammates, reacted?
ML: I think there were mixed emotions that went with that, but for me, it was just one of those things where it’s a part of the game. For whatever reason, it happened, and if he did it on purpose, fine. I have nothing against that. I mean, it’s just how that person plays the game, and how that person was taught the game. I have no hard feelings. I know that some people were upset, and didn’t like that, but it’s just the way that it was. I think that you just have to treat it like another game. Obviously, it wasn’t just another game, because it was the Olympics, and whatnot, but you have to just go out there and play like it’s just another baseball game. It’s the same three outs, and all that stuff.
DL: What will be different when you go back up to Cleveland?
ML: I don’t know, but I can’t imagine anything being that much different. It’s still the same game, and it was the same game when I was up there the first time. Nothing has changed in that sense. I’ve gotten a little taste of what it’s like, so in that sense, maybe it won’t be so new to me, but, for the most part, it’s just going to be another baseball game at the highest level.
DL: Any final thoughts?
ML: I’ll just say that you should do what makes you happy. It’s not always about the money. Just do what makes you happy. Do you know what I mean? That’s the most important thing to me in life.