Brothers Matthew and Xavier Paul developed a love of baseball from an early age and both have been able to successfully forge a career out of their chosen sport. Kreol Magazine caught up with the siblings in their native Louisiana, to find out more about their playing days and what continues to motivate them.
Looking back, there seems little doubt that the Paul brothers would make a name for themselves in the fiercely competitive world of professional baseball. Of course, lots of young boys dream of making it into the pro ranks and being able to earn a living from this quintessential American sport, but only a tiny percentage of them follow through on their dreams. Talent alone isn’t usually enough and isn’t even that rare. What separates the dreamers from the achievers often comes down to perseverance and determination, two qualities the Paul brothers have shown they possess.
Matt and Xavier both started playing baseball when they were about five-years-old at their home in Slidell, Louisiana, a quiet town north of New Orleans, across Lake Pontchartrain. One of three children to Xavier Higginbotham Brooks Paul and Marle Paul (a talented painter), Matt is the oldest, and as well as baseball, excelled in three sports including basketball and football through his school years. By the time he reached junior high, however, he’d decided that he wanted to make a career out of baseball. After playing at the University of New Orleans for a year and a half, he transferred to Southern University where he was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers and went on to play minor league baseball for three years.
A talented middle infielder at shortstop and second base, Matt was unlucky to suffer a career-changing shoulder injury. It was during a lengthy period of rehab, in 2008, that he was offered the chance to scout upcoming talent for the Dodgers, a role he performed for the next seven years. That is until, in 2015, he decided to go one better than spotting talent and decided to nurture it instead. Matt takes up the story.
“The role of the scout is to find talent for the baseball franchise, it’s not about nurturing talent or giving leadership. As a scout, I saw many children who had potential but faced other disadvantages.”
Matt decided to do something about this by establishing the Prospect Lab or TPL as it is also called. Many of the children who participate are minorities or come from single-parent households. The goal of The Prospect Lab is to be a mentor to children and help guide them through their formative years. Matt explains:
“We aim to provide all children with positive role models and bring mentorship into their lives.”
While the focus remains on helping the youngsters to develop as baseball players, Matt says he is just as proud of the role the programme plays in nurturing these children to develop as individuals.
“With our assistance, these young boys develop as players on the field, and more importantly, grow into responsible young men off the field as well.”
Practice sessions and mentorship
Despite his own achievements in the game and his status as a former professional player, The Prospect Lab wasn’t an overnight success and at first. With the help of his partner, Travis Coleman (Regional Scouting Supervisor for the Houston Astros), they actively recruited youngsters for the programme. It wasn’t long before word spread, and most of the participants will attest to have learned about TPL from other athletes who had enjoyed a positive experience with the academy. The programme draws on children from throughout the southeast US and around 100 athletes are enrolled at any one time. The busiest periods are during the winter and summer months, but mentorship and skill development with the TPL staff goes on throughout the year.
“As someone who loved the sport as a young boy, TPL is happy to provide leadership, mentorship, and a platform for young athletes around our region to improve their baseball skills, nurture growth, and help them become responsible and caring young men.”
Of the two brothers, Xavier has had the longer playing career. His love for the game started from an early age. His fondest memories as a teenager come from watching the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves and in particular, his favourite player, Pedro Martinez. Like many kids, Xavier dreamed of being a pro baseball player and was supported and encouraged by his parents. But, unlike a lot of his peers with similar dreams, Xavier, stepped up to the plate. He played in the Junior national team that won a gold medal at the world championships, in 2001, and while still at Slidell High School, was selected for the second team of Baseball America’s High School all-American team, in 2003. He played for the USA at the Pan American Games in the same year and was named Mr Baseball for the State of Louisiana for 2003.
His prospects looked extremely promising but Xavier says baseball was “very challenging” and he had to spend seven years playing in the minor leagues before finally making it to the major leagues. During this period another Louisiana native and a major league player, Juan Pierre, was an important mentor. Xavier would go on to enjoy a successful professional career, playing outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies and Arizona Diamondbacks. He also played briefly in Mexico, for Los Aguilas de Mexacali and the Delfines del Carmen.
Xavier’s Personal achievements
“The most gratifying experience I had playing major league was in winning the 2012 national league central division with my teammates, while playing for the Cincinnati Reds. All four major cities I played in were great, but Cincinnati Reds became another home for me. I enjoyed training at the gym every day and preparing myself for a 162-game season, and Cincinnati itself is a very loving city.”
Although he enjoyed a long and successful professional career, Xavier believes his ultimate achievement as a person is in helping others accomplish their dreams in the world of sport: “My idea of happiness and success is an individual being able to enjoy their life by doing a job they love to do every day.” His Christian faith has also been a constant in his life, helping him to navigate the ups and downs of a pro baseball player: “Holding on to my faith in trying times throughout my career has continued to give me strength during some very challenging periods.”
If he couldn’t be involved in playing baseball or mentoring others, Xavier says he’d be a hunting or fishing guide in and around the marshy bayous of Louisiana – something he enjoyed doing as a kid, when he wasn’t playing baseball.
“Next to baseball, being an outdoorsman is my ultimate passion and I’d like to be accompanied by my two children, Xavier and Skyler!”