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All-time North Branford baseball player Matt Chamberlain can call himself a pro after signing on the line to join the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization. (Photo courtesy of Matt Chamberlain )
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At 9:01 in the morning on June 14, former North Branford baseball standout Matt Chamberlain received a phone call that would change his life forever. The call came in just one minute after Major League Baseball (MLB) teams were allowed to sign undrafted free agents following the 2020 MLB Draft. On the other end of the line was the St. Louis Cardinals, which offered Chamberlain a contract to play in their organization.
Chamberlain, a center fielder who played college baseball at the University of New Haven (UNH), took a moment to talk with his family and decide what was best for him. A few minutes later, Chamberlain called the Cardinals back and told him that he had made his decision. Chamberlain officially signed with St. Louis and, just like that, his lifelong dream of becoming a professional baseball player had been fulfilled.
“It was surreal. I couldn’t really feel my legs. I thought I was going to be more emotional, but my mom did most of the crying for me,” Chamberlain said. “It was a dream come true. It was the perfect moment, and I had my family by my side. It was nice to share the moment with them. I was ready for it.”
This year’s MLB Draft took place on June 10 and 11. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought an abrupt end to the college baseball season, the draft was shortened to just five rounds and was held remotely at the MLB Network’s studios in Secaucus, New Jersey. Following those five rounds, teams were allowed to sign an unlimited amount of undrafted players. College players who had a year of eligibility remaining, like Chamberlain, could have either signed or returned to college.
Chamberlain said that five MLB teams reached out to him during the draft. When St. Louis came calling as soon as the window to sign undrafted players opened, Chamberlain knew that the Cardinals were the right fit for him.
“It was reassuring. I was expecting a call that day, but I wasn’t sure from who. When they called me at 9:01, it was kind of like a no-brainer,” said Chamberlain. “If I’m that important to them, if I’m the first guy they’re calling, it says a lot. I respected that a lot. It wasn’t hard for me to make that decision.”
Chamberlain, who bats left-handed and throws right-handed, spent his high school days playing for Head Coach Billy Mitchell and the baseball team at North Branford. He posted a .450 career batting average with the Thunderbirds and led the team as a captain in his senior season. Chamberlain was a two-time All-Shoreline Conference and two-time All-State honoree for North Branford. He was also named the Shoreline Conference Player of the year in 2016, the same year that he graduated.
When Chamberlain signed with the Cardinals, Mitchell was one of the first people that he called.
“I had a lot of people I needed to thank. Coach Mitchell is one of those old school guys, and I didn’t want the news coming from anybody else,” said Chamberlain, who was also a captain for the T-Birds’ football and ice hockey squads. “He was a significant part of my career. I knew me reaching out and telling him personally would complete the job. Telling him myself that I signed a professional contract, it was an emotional moment. It made me happy to know how highly he felt of me and how proud he was of me.”
Chamberlain has stayed in contact with Coach Mitchell since graduating from North Branford. Mitchell called his former captain, “probably the hardest-working kid I’ve ever coached.”
“I was really happy. Matt definitely deserves it. He works hard for it. He couldn’t be a nicer kid. I was very proud of him,” Mitchell said. “Matt didn’t just get it from his talent. He got it from his hard work and being a great person. To see somebody get rewarded like he has, by signing with the Cardinals, is a tremendous feeling for me. Seeing what he went through and the type of person he is, I’m just really happy for him.”
After graduating from North Branford, Chamberlain stayed local and played baseball at UNH, where he was a four-year starter who appeared in 140 games for the Chargers. In that time, Chamberlain batted .297 with 138 hits, 11 home runs, 80 RBI, and 48 stolen bases. UNH won the Northeast-10 Conference championship during Chamberlain’s freshman season. He made the conference’s All-Rookie Team that year and was an All-East Region selection in his junior campaign. Even though he only got to play eight games as a senior, Chamberlain still left the Chargers as their all-time leader in walks with 126.
While continuing to improve on the baseball field, Chamberlain also made some serious strides as a person during his time at UNH. He believes that those two things go hand in hand.
“My goal was to go to college and develop as a person. I wanted to become the best person I could be. Baseball kind of just fell into place. Baseball is my stage to show people how to be a role model, to be a good person,” said Chamberlain, who majored in nutrition and dietetics. “At New Haven, I developed more as a person than I did as a player. The coaching staff and the players there, they taught us how to be men and how to be professional. That’s a huge reason how I was able to become a good baseball player.”
Chamberlain’s goal is to make the Major Leagues and help the Cardinals continue their tradition of success. At the same time, he hasn’t forgotten about the place where his journey to the professional ranks began. Chamberlain appreciates everyone in North Branford who helped him get to where he is today.
“North Branford gave me every opportunity to be the person that I want to be. I was put in good spots and bad spots and made tough decisions,” Chamberlain said. “From bottom to top, from the janitors to the teachers to the superintendent, everything about North Branford gave me an opportunity to succeed and tested my limits to see if I was going to choke under the pressure. I took my career very seriously from the start, and I was rewarded for it.”
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