Matt Lipka knows he’s truly blessed to be playing for the Frisco RoughRiders. Not only does he get to sleep in his own bed every night, spend quality time with his dog, but he also gets the occasional home-cooked meal from his parents.
Lipka, who turned 25 on April 15th, is a former baseball and football standout at McKinney High School who is living at home for the first time as a professional. Lipka knows being near his friends, family, and dog will “go a long way in a very long season.”
It’s obviously a heck of an opportunity. My biggest thing is just being with a new organization, coming to spring training, and seeing how they go about their training. It was very eye-opening coming from where I was,” Lipka said, who the Rangers signed over the winter after Atlanta let him become a minor-league free agent.
After being a standout receiver for the McKinney High School Lions’ football team, and also starring at shortstop for the baseball team, Lipka was drafted 35th as a Compensation A pick in the June 2010 Amateur Baseball Draft. He spent the past seven seasons in the Atlanta Braves’ organization, battling several injuries, and a regime change at the top of the organization which eventually made him expendable at the end of last season. He reached Triple-A Gwinnett of the International League by playing 56 games there.
I served my time with the Braves and now I’m here,” Lipka said. “Obviously, it didn’t work with Atlanta. I had a bad injury in 2012 and in ’14, so I missed out on key development. And then, once the front office flipped, I wasn’t really a topic of conversation because I was hurt all the time. The fresh start helps alleviate some things because even a bad day at the yard turns into a good day overall because you’re sleeping in your own bed and petting your dog.”
With Lipka being new to the Rangers organization, this is obviously the first time for third-year Frisco manager Joe Mikulik to manage him. The longtime minor-league skipper likes Lipka’s passion and energy, two qualities Mikulik himself is never short on. Mikulik envisions big things from the McKinney resident in 2017.
I love the way he goes about his business. Matt’s a high-energy guy. I looked at a little bit of his numbers last year and I think there’s more there,” Mikulik said.
Mikulik wants to see him channel those energies for the good of the team and himself.
I don’t want him to shut it down. He’s got to be himself. He’s going to play the way he plays. He goes all out and that’s great, but I think if he can control some of the stuff and start squaring up some balls, he can be a good player,” Mikulik said. “I think for him, it’s just (about) getting his feet under him and being himself. If we start seeing him squaring up some balls, he can do some damage. I love seeing him go about it.”
During his first two seasons in the Atlanta organization, Lipka played strictly in the infield before playing outfield over the past five campaigns, versatility which Mikulik likes. As for his high energy, Lipka knows it started during his days playing high school football.
When I got into pro ball, it was pretty under control. That’s one thing I don’t have an issue with, hustling and stuff, and being a high-motor guy,” Lipka said. “I think (Mikulik) can relate to me because I see that with his coaching, too. That (energy) is awesome to have during a full season. That’s actually what I’ve been working on the last couple years because this game doesn’t really reward a football mentality so much. (Football has) a lot of controlled aggression, and though I’ve gotten better at it, I’m going to keep progressing with that this year.
Since he grew up in McKinney, Lipka will have plenty of well-wishers in the stands at Dr Pepper Ballpark this season. Whether they’re his parents, who will make every home game, other family members, friends, or even former coaches. Lipka calls the thought of having such a big cheering section each night “super exciting” along with playing at a ballpark he once played in during high school.
But as he tells it, Dr Pepper Ballpark was much different back then as there were no apartments surrounding the stadium and there was no Lazy River beyond the right field fence. The Embassy Suites was situated beyond center field, and except for the Star Center, there were no other attractions surrounding the ballpark.
As someone who grew up watching the Rangers, he went to Texas’ pre-draft camps and hoped the Rangers would draft him so he could one day play in Frisco. Atlanta ended up drafting him instead. But after an eventful tenure in the Braves’ organization, Lipka now has a fresh start in the Ranger organization and is realizing his dream of playing close to home.
“It’s weird, yeah, it’s really weird. Trying to make sense of it,” Lipka said of now playing in Frisco. “It’s something you can’t draw up. I think it’s a bigger plan than even I can comprehend.”
“It’s the environment that the RoughRiders breed. Everything they say is, ‘Hey, get your work in. You guys are professionals. Just play. Play hard and the chips will fall where they may. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.’ Coming from the Braves, everything was more hands-on. I think it bred a little bit of indecision on some things as opposed to just going out there and letting your ability speak for itself.”
Lipka feels that this change in scenery could result in him finally putting everything together to deliver maybe his finest season as a professional in 2017.
The tools have really always been there, it’s just been putting it together in a full season by being consistent. By letting it fly and not having any fear of failing, (I can achieve those goals). That’s the one thing I saw this spring. They (the team) are fun, loose, and relaxed. It feels like baseball again. There’s not a ton of rules on the guys and it’s just a really good environment. I’m happy and grateful that I’m with a team like this.”