June 4, 2021 - by
Mat Nelson: The View From Behind Home Plate

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Matheu Nelson’s numbers are staggering.

22 home runs. .777 slugging percentage. 64 RBI. 143 total bases.

Nelson is the national leader in home runs. He’s among the nation’s leaders in slugging percentage and RBI. He’s in the top 15 for total bases.

He was named a First-Team All-American by Collegiate Baseball and is a favorite to be a consensus All-American selection. He’s also a top candidate for the Buster Posey Award as the nation’s top catcher. The Posey Award (formerly the Johnny Bench Award) is named for one of the greatest players in Florida State history.

He was selected as the ACC Player of the Year – becoming the eighth Seminole to be named the top player in one of the top baseball conferences in the nation. Nelson joins a who’s-who of Seminoles to win the league’s top honor, including J.D. Drew (1997), Posey (2008), and most recently, DJ Stewart (2014).

Nevertheless, the one number he is asked about the most is the significance of the number he wears on his uniform: 63.  He is the first baseball player in Florida State history to wear the number, and it’s a uniform number that he has worn since he was 14 years old.

“When I was younger I wore 42 because of Jackie Robinson,” said Nelson. “When I was 14, I changed to 63 because I knew one day I wouldn’t be able to wear 42. Ever since then, including high school, I have always worn 63. I wear No. 63 because no one else wears it and I wanted to wear something for myself. There is no reason behind it; it’s just a random number that I like.”

Nelson is the Seminoles’ everyday catcher, and following a long-standing tradition, has been behind the plate in nearly every game of his Florida State career. He has started 119 of 124 games with 117 of those starts coming at the position since the start of the 2019 season. Nelson will make his 120th career start against Southern Miss in FSU’s first game of the Oxford Regional Friday (3:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU).

From the most unique vantage point on a baseball diamond, Nelson has witnessed some of the most memorable moments in Florida State history.

Nelson caught a combined no-hitter in his first game as a Seminole, on Opening Day in 2019. He was the starting catcher when Mike Martin won his 2000th career game on March 9, 2019 against Virginia Tech and was the behind the plate in the final game of ‘11’s legendary career. He was Florida State’s catcher in its memorable run to the 2019 College World Series. He was behind the plate for the beginning of Mike Martin, Jr.’s career as head coach and has caught over 40 pitchers in his time as a Seminole.

Throughout his career at Florida State, Nelson has been known as one of the Seminoles’ hardest workers who plays one of the toughest positions in any sport.

“Mat Nelson is a coach’s dream,” said Martin, Jr., who was the Seminoles’ starting catcher from 1993-95.  “Nelly is the epitome of a student-athlete and great teammate. That’s all he cares about. He will play a long time in the major leagues and will be an amazing success in life.”

Florida State, like most collegiate teams, calls the majority of its pitches from the dugout and relays them to the catcher through a series of signs. It is that communication with the Florida State coaching staff that makes him one of the nation’s top backstops.

“The coaches do a lot of work with scouting reports on the hitters,” said Nelson. “They know what the numbers look like with the hitters and who is on the mound. Coach Martin always talks to me about situations and how to never be satisfied. He and the coaches know the ins and outs of not just this program but also the game of baseball.”

The communication between the coaches and their catcher has been spot on this season.

The Seminoles’ pitching staff is ranked No. 4 nationally with 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings, No. 10 in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.2:1) and No. 12 nationally with a 3.51 ERA.

“Mat has been an extension of our coaching staff on the field,” said Seminoles’ pitching coach Jimmy Belanger. “His leadership, experience and consistency have allowed our pitchers to step on the mound each time out with total confidence because they know the guy behind the plate has prepared and worked harder than anyone in the country.”

Offensively, Nelson has blossomed into one of the most feared hitters in college baseball this season. He’s the first Seminole since Posey in 2008 to hit more than 20 home runs in a season. He hit a home run in four consecutive games in April. He has hit more than three times as many home runs this season (22) than he did in the first two years of his career (seven). He’s got more hits (61-59), more RBI (64-43) and more doubles (16-12) already this season than he did during his freshman and sophomore seasons combined.

Nelson attributes his success at the plate to his confidence.

“You have to have a certain mindset as a hitter,” said Nelson. “I tell myself I am the best hitter in the country before and after every pitch. I own the box, I don’t just rent it. I’ve been telling myself that since before I hit my first home run of the season.”

Nelson’s first home run came in his second at bat of the 2021 season against North Florida – on just the ninth pitch he saw in the season opener. They have continued to come throughout the season with two coming against Wake Forest and two more in the Seminoles’ come-from-behind 15-11 win over NC State to close the regular season.

Nelson is one of only two players in the ACC with 20 or more home runs and 60 or more RBI.

As hard as he hits the ball, and as far as most of his home runs have carried this season, Nelson stays true to his baseball principles and runs as hard as he can until he sees each ball fly over the fence.

“With a few of them (my home runs), I knew right away once it left the bat that they would go out,” said Nelson. “Either way I still run hard out the box every time because in the back of my head there is still that chance that wind could play a factor and keep it in play.”

While his offensive numbers are staggering, Nelson is most proud of a number that exceeds 1,000.

“I have learned throughout my career that talent is always going to make you a good player,” said Nelson. “I think I have blocked over 1,000 balls in the past year. The athleticism I gained during the Covid-19 summer has helped me be able to block some difficult pitches.”

His mindset only proves that Nelson is much more than just a home run hitter.

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