Some of my best friends were recruited for college baseball and I really wanted that too. I was so excited to get my first recruiting letter from the University of Kansas inviting me to come to Lawrence for a baseball recruiting visit. Part of the visit was to attend a Jayhawk basketball game. Well, the letter arrived in May and the basketball season ended in March. I knew quickly I wasn’t high on their priority list.
No other letters came, so it quickly became clear that I would pursue my lifelong dream of attending the University of Arkansas. My uncle Lon Farrell groomed me as a Razorback from the time I was born. He was the assistant athletic director under Frank Broyles at Arkansas for 20+ years. We attended countless football, basketball and baseball games as long as I could remember growing up. It was more than just a school to me (and continues to be). My uncle passed away while I was a junior in high school, but by then my path was set to be a Razorback.
With no other real baseball offers in hand, I tried to walk-on the baseball team at Arkansas. With my uncle’s position in the athletic department I got to know the baseball coach at Arkansas at the time – Norm DeBriyn – and his family well.
As you can probably guess by now, I didn’t make the cut, but the way it happened turned out to be the best decision of my life.
Below is the email I sent to Coach DeBriyn in September 2011, almost 25 years later:
Sept. 30, 2011
I hope you and your family are doing great. My parents (Dan and Mary Lou Farrell) still live in Kansas, along with my Uncle Lynn and Aunt Joan Farrell.
I know this email comes out of the blue, but there is a story from nearly 25 years ago that I have never told you. Don’t worry, it’s good!
I remember this so clearly. So many ballplayers and student-athletes have come through your door that you might not remember this one…
In 1987, I tried to walk-on the baseball team at UA. I was a typical freshman dreaming of playing for the Hogs. The tryout went ok, but nothing special. A couple of days into it, I was struggling at the plate and Coach [Dave] Clark gave me a quiet tip that helped a ton. But that’s not the story.
I recall the tryouts lasting 3-4 days. A couple of days into the tryout, you called me into your office and said, “Matt, you made it this far on your own. Normally, I would cut you at this point of the tryout. But considering our families have known each other for so long, I am willing to let you stay on the team as a walk-on.”
I remember your words more clearly than mine, but I recall politely declining, knowing that if I was going to make it, I wanted to do it on my own and not have any special favors.
At that point in my life, I didn’t know what to do. Sports were all I knew.
So, I started working for Bill Smith in the athletic department in the sports information office at Arkansas. Since then, I have worked 20+ years in sports communications and marketing. I have had the wonderful fortune to work for USA Swimming, the U.S. Olympic Committee, work 8 Olympic Games [pre-London 2012], as well as working for Warner Bros., in LA. I met my wife through working in sports. We have two wonderful children and live in Colorado Springs.
My long-winded point … what seemed like a very small moment at the time, turned out to be one of the greatest turning points in my life. It set me on a course that has far exceeded my expectations and hopes. I tell that story often, especially to young people when they are seeking career advice. I have told that story at least 100 times, but I have never told it to you!
I just want to say thanks. You made a profound impact on my life and I am a better person for it.
Please don’t hesitate to let me know if I can ever do anything to help.
As my Uncle Lon would always write, “Best regards” and thank you!
Thankfully, he responded quickly and this will be an email exchange I will always treasure:
Hi Matt, What a wonderful email and thank you. I do remember you coming out, but I don’t remember our conversation. I am glad it’s good. I have followed you some and you have done a great job. Seems like some of the Farrell work ethic has rubbed off on you also. How are your Mom and Dad doing? Those are very fond memories.
Razorback Foundation, Inc. (Former Arkansas Head Baseball Coach)
By not making that baseball team at Arkansas, it has led to a lifetime working in sports information, PR and marketing. Most importantly, it changed the path of my personal life and I had the chance to meet my wife Michelle and we have two incredible daughters. Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.