Minnesota Twins outfielder Matt Wallner talks UND recruitment and sticking with his word
Wallner, one of the Twins' top young prospects, was once committed to UND before the school cut its baseball program.
GRAND FORKS — Matt Wallner can’t exactly remember if big schools were trying to poach him from his commitment to North Dakota back in high school in Forest Lake, Minn.
Since then, he’s played in the NCAA, the Cape Cod League, the Midwest League, the Appalachian League, High-A League, Florida Complex League, Arizona Fall League, International League, Texas League and – now – Major League Baseball.
The 24-year-old right fielder and recent call-up of the Minnesota Twins, however, can recall what his response would have been about eight years ago.
“It wouldn’t have mattered,” Wallner told the Herald last week. “I really liked (UND coaches Jeff Dodson and Brian DeVillers) and guys I met on the team, so I wasn’t going to break that commitment.”
Last week, Dodson and DeVillers detailed how they were able to recruit a Major League Baseball prospect to sign at North Dakota out of a showcase in Burnsville, Minn., following Wallner’s sophomore year of high school.
“They were the only Division I program reaching out,” Wallner said. “I was just excited to hear from North Dakota.”
DeVillers was stunned Wallner wasn’t speaking to Division I coaches after the showcase. He could only reason big schools were looking specifically for upperclassmen during a different era of college baseball recruiting.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Wallner said of how he went under the radar. “I was really skinny. I was just tall. I didn’t have anything crazy going on. I didn’t play club ball, just the normal stuff. I didn’t go out of my way to get out on the recruiting trail.”
Dodson, the former head coach and now fundraiser at the UND Alumni Association, said DeVillers, who now sells insurance in Grand Forks, had a knack for relationships with recruits.
“They were in contact in a good way and not in a buggy way,” Wallner said. “If I reached out to them, they’d get back right away. They were responsive and good to me, so it was a cool experience for me.”
Wallner recalls April 12, 2016, when UND announced it was going to cut baseball as a response to state-mandated budget cuts. Interim UND President Ed Schafer tasked former athletic director Brian Faison with cutting operating costs.
“That was devastating,” Wallner said. “It was after the first game of my senior year of high school. I found out after the game. I didn’t know what to do.”
Wallner, however, was encouraged after the game by a Minnesota Twins scout who had clocked Wallner at 92-94 miles per hour, a telling sign Wallner would have lots of suitors.
Wallner went on recruiting visits to Southern Miss, Creighton and Coastal Carolina.
“It was hectic,” Wallner said.
Wallner eventually chose Southern Miss, a destination engineered by Dodson.
Wallner broke the Southern Miss home run record after hitting 23 as a junior and has quickly climbed the Twins’ minor league system and sits entrenched in the team’s long-term plans.
Wallner remains in contact with the coaches who recruited him to UND.
“I talk to Dodson for sure monthly if not more,” Wallner said. “I talk to (DeVillers) every once and a while. They’re really good guys, and I wouldn’t have this opportunity without them in a weird way.”
Dodson visited Wallner last week in Minnesota.
“It’s pretty cool and surreal,” Wallner said of his big league call-up. “It’s obviously cool with the big league experience but especially cool to do it where I grew up.”