How UND Baseball managed to sign Minnesota Twins sensation Matt Wallner – Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS — Brian Devils was a friend of groundskeeper in Burnsville, Minnesota, so the former UND baseball coach and two college baseball coaching friends survived the June heat by sitting in a shed behind a diamond to watch 10 hours of Showtime Sports’ 2014 high school baseball prospects event.

The coaches had lists of prospects and put tags next to the names they wanted to assign.

Among the 200 kids playing in front of about 40 scouts, DeVillers began watching Matt Wallner, who was emerging from his sophomore year in Forest Lake, a northern suburb of the Twin Cities.

“This little 6-foot-4 kid is a good looking kid and runs really well,” said Devilers. “He’s been rocking pretty well. He was 16 and needed weight, but he caught my interest and put a star next to him, so I’d keep watching.

“The kid was pretty good and he was only 16. I thought it might be a deal where he’s so good. You hate to say it, but you can run into it where he’s probably a gopher.”

DeVillers returned to Grand Forks and discussed his findings with UND coach Jeff Dodson. DeVillers couldn’t speak to Wallner in the field, as it was a quiet period for NCAA recruiting regulations.

DeVillers emailed Wallner to tell the potential client that he had seen him in Burnsville. He sent Wallner some information about the UND, invited him to camp in Grand Forks and told him to call him if he wanted. Wallner also asked about the college baseball coaches he’s been in contact with so far.

“He came back straight away,” Devilers said. “He was a polite kid. He said he hadn’t talked to a college coach yet. I was like, ‘What the hell is this?’ “

DeVillers began to wonder if the display software had the wrong jersey number associated with the player.

“I guess there’s no way; you’ve got the wrong kid,” Devils said. “Another week goes by, I go see him play. Same things. I loved what you saw in size and arm. I told him I thought you could have a chance to shoot and hit for us, and I asked him again who he’s talking to. He says you asked twice now, and I tell you I didn’t I talk to anyone.

“So again, I guess I don’t have the right kid here. What the hell is this.”

Looking back eight years later, DeVillers can’t help but make the era of college baseball recruiting not aimed at lower-class men. He said you now routinely see freshmen and sophomores in high school making commitments.

UND Baseball set up potential fall camps on Sunday after UND football games the day before.

DeVillers told Dodson and former assistant J.C. Field that Wallner was coming to camp although he wasn’t sure if he was communicating electronically with the kid he saw in the field.

Wallner came to Kraft Field and underwent training.

“This is the right kid,” Devils said. “I thought I had the wrong baby for three months. I thought the rolls must have been wrong. But he was really good, just young and immature in terms of body. He takes (the batting exercise), and I’m behind the cage.”

Dodson looks at the DeVillers.

“You have the right kid,” Dodson said. “We need to introduce it to him as quickly as possible.”

Dodson remembers two main things about Wallner’s first exercise in Grand Forks.

“The first thing you notice is that he’s taller than everyone else,” Dodson said. “Then there was the sound the ball made from his racket. It was a little different. It didn’t go far. It came out hard, and then it died. But when you hear that sound, the load power will come.”

Then the UND instructors took out the radar pistol. They scored Wallner in the mid-1980s from right field. Then they put it on the pile. Again, it was in the mid 80’s.

It was a great first impression all around.

“You can just get a feel for a person,” Dodson said. “Give them a look they’d be cool. They listen to you, make eye contact and don’t get distracted. Every time I said something, he was making eye contact the whole time.”

When Wallner first came to camp at Grand Forks early in his freshman year, he was 185 pounds. Leaving high school at a price of 220 pounds.

“We were fortunate that he hadn’t developed yet,” Dodson said. “That’s really the only reason we got it. Otherwise, some big schools will catch up with him quickly.”

This was the strength of the DeVillers as a recruit, Dodson said.

“He has the ability to identify children who can drop,” Dodson said. “His knack for finding that needle in a haystack was really good.”

Dodson said that’s how UND landed future pros in Andrew Tom, Tyler Follis, Jeff Campbell and Zach Mockenhern.

Muckenhirn, currently at AAA with the Chicago White Sox system, came to dig out camp at 82-83 miles per hour. He left UND in 92-93.

“This is really a tribute to Brian and the body of work he did while he was here,” Dodson said. “His follow-up was great too. He was easy to talk to and hardworking. He had connections. He knew who to talk to to make sure we got the right personality for the kid.”

By his last year of high school, the secret had been revealed to Wallner.

As a high school student at Forest Lake, Wallner was 7-1 with an average gain of 0.95. He hit .382 with 10 home runs and was named Minnesota Mister Baseball.

It didn’t matter who I called, he was coming to UND,” Dodson said. “He was loyal to the fact that we were the only team on it when there was no one else around.”

Of course, Wallner never came to UND as the university cut short the baseball program during Wallner’s graduation season.

In 2016, Wallner was drafted into the 32nd round of the MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins. However, he did not sign and chose to attend the Southern Miss, a landing spot coordinated by Dodson.

Wallner would dominate as a freshman for the Southern Miss in 2017. He reached 0.336 with 19 home points and 63 RBI in 66 games. He also appeared in nine Bullpen games, and compiled a 1.84 ERA.

Wallner would go on to hit a school record 58 times in the career home at Southern Miss.

The Wallner twins will be selected with the 39th overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft.

Wallner started the 2022 season at AA Wichita and was later promoted to AAA St. Paul. In 128 games between the two, Wallner has 27 home hits, 95 RBI and 32 doubles.

Last Saturday, the Wallner twins called up to the major leagues. He made his MLB debut, hitting the home solo of Shane Bieber of the Cleveland Guardians on his first MLB success.

In his first six matches with the twins, Wallner had four RBIs.

“I texted him on Saturday afternoon to say congratulations to you for living this dream,” Devils said. “I totally wasn’t expecting anything to come back. You know he got 9,000 texts that day. If he hadn’t said anything, I wouldn’t have thought anything of it. But he said thanks and he really appreciates it and I hope you’re doing a great job.”

Dodson, who now works for the United Nations University Alumni Association, said he enjoyed following Wallner’s rise.

“It’s wonderful,” he said. “I think it will show you, not where you start but where you end. Even when you are dealt a bad hand, you can still go out and be good.”

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