Matt Williams was drafted by the New York Mets in the 27th Round of the 1983 Draft but he didn't sign, opting instead to go to UNLV where he hit 58 HRs and posted a .327 AVG over three seasons, finishing his collegiate career with a 25 HR season in 1986 in which he hit for a .351 AVG over 57 games.
The San Francisco Giants then drafted the Carson City, Nevada-born infielder with the third overall pick of the 1986 Draft. Williams, who went on to play 17 seasons in the majors, ten of them with the Giants, told reporters last week, while discussing the Nats' plans for the 2014 Draft, that he remembered the night he was selected by San Francisco.
"I was actually in my mom and dad's house," Williams recalled. "The phone rang. I didn't expect it, because there wasn't a whole lot said about it really. So I didn't expect to go, number one, to the Giants. I thought maybe I would go somewhere, but didn't expect that high and then the negotiations started and I got so frustrated about it I took my pole and my dog and I went fishing for three or four days and got out of there, so, but it was a fun process. It was a lot of fun to have that excitement, to know that you've reached one of your goals."
Once he was selected, the next step was to sign a deal. He did, relatively quickly.
"It wasn't long. A week or so?" Williams said.
"Representatives of the Giants came to Carson City and talked to my parents and then that process started," Williams explained, "but it didn't take very long.
"And they you find yourself in a town that you've never been to, playing, and then there's expectations."
The Giants sent him to play with the Class-A Short Season Everett Giants in the Northwest League to start his professional career.
A year later, he started his major league career when he debuted for San Francisco on April 11, 1987.
Williams played 1,120 games for the Giants, posting a .264/.312/.498 line with 179 doubles and 247 home runs in San Francisco before he was dealt to the Cleveland Indians in the November 1996 deal that brought Jeff Kent, Jose Vizcaino and Julian Taverez to the Giants.
As noted in a 1997 Sports Illustrated article by Tim Crothers, there was near-unanimous opposition to the trade among Giants fans.
Then-first-year GM Brian Sabean defended the trade in a press conference several days later in which he offered what Mr. Crothers described as a "Nixonian" proclamation, telling reporters, "I am not an idiot.":
"'I didn't have my head in the sand,' Sabean says. 'I knew Matt was a fan favorite and that this would not be a popular decision, but I was tired of losing. Desperate times call for bold moves.'"
Williams said this week that he has discussed the trade with Sabean over the years, and understands why the Giants' GM made the deal.
"The only thing I've ever said to Brian about that is, 'I don't blame you,'" he joked.
"You've got a choice to make, you've got [Barry] Bonds or you've got Williams, and you've got to get rid of one of them, what are you going to do? He made the right choice. It's one of those decision you have to make. As it turned out, going to Cleveland and playing in the World Series was a great experience."
Williams went to the World Series with Cleveland in the 1997 season and at the end of a season filled with personal turmoil, requested a trade to the Arizona Diamondbacks so that he could be closer to his family. The D-Back went to the postseason in 1999 and made it to and won the World Series in 2001.
"Winning the World Series with the Diamondbacks was a great experience," Williams said. "I really never thought I would leave the Giants. I didn't want to. But it's baseball and it's a business and those things happen. Brian has been very nice to me about it in every respect and has been a great supporter of me and for me and regardless of where I was he's always been supportive."
After six seasons in Arizona, Williams' playing days ended in 2003. After working on television and in the front office, he became a coach with the D-Backs before eventually signing on with the Nationals to become their fifth manager since 2005 when baseball returned to the nation's capital. Tonight, Williams and the Nats play the same Giants he debuted for in 1987.
He was asked last week if returning to San Francisco carried any significance for him?
"Other than trying to beat those guys?" Williams asked.
"That's my original home," he continued. "I spent 10 years there. The people of San Francisco have been nothing but gracious to me throughout my whole career whether I was a Giant or an Indian or a Diamondback or managing the Washington Nationals. It feels like home to me, because that's where I started. I have great memories there. I learned how to be a big league baseball player there. So, of course it's significant.
"We want to win those games though. They've got a really great team, they're playing very well. We want to win those games. It's always special for me to go back there. People have supported me for a long, long time there and I'm grateful for that."
Williams returns to San Francisco tonight, managing his first game against the Giants at 10:15 pm EDT in AT&T Park.