ALL IN THE FAMILY: Paulsens share strong father-son connection on the diamond
By BRANDON HURLEY
Baseball connects families, that’s what it does best.
In a sport that has endured numerous gambling and steroid scandals as well as various labor disputes, there are always family ties to help heal.
Ken Griffey senior and junior. Bobby and Barry Bonds. The Boone family. Sandy and Roberto Alomar. The list will never dry, and now, Greene County’s family duo throws its name into the ring.
America’s pastime runs deep through the Paulsen bloodline.
Four generations of baseball love is hard to ignore.
Matt Paulsen and his dad, Kevin, are forever connected through their passion, and for the first time at the varsity level, the pair shared a dugout at a school that’s evolved into a second family.
Matt, 25, is in the midst of his first season as Greene County’s baseball head coach, leading the Rams alongside his father, who’s been a mainstay within the program for almost 20 years.
Once Matt was named head coach, he immediately turned his attention to bringing along his mentor.
“I couldn’t think of a guy that’s better than him,” Matt said. “It took some convincing. But I was looking forward to sharing (baseball) with my dad. It’s what I’ve known. It’s a neat experience, and not a lot of people get to do it.”
Baseball’s intricacies between pitches is what really ties teammates and coaches together. There’s ample time for discussion, many moments to breakdown the previous play. Time spent in the dugout is like nothing else in sports. Teams win and lose together a little differently, grinding through humid summer afternoons and long bus rides. The language of baseball becomes a soundtrack to life.
“A lot of it is how the game is played,” Kevin said. “When you are at the game, you really have a chance to talk about it. Baseball lends itself to family. The camaraderie of a dugout is different. The amount of time you spend together, you really become a family.”
Matt graduated from Greene County High School in 2013, and returned to Jefferson not even two years later to coach at the middle school level, with who else ? His dad.
“The ability to maintain a close relationship and a love of baseball, it’s really a family thing,” Kevin said. “I got it from my parents.”
The Paulsen family’s love for baseball goes way back, several generations in fact. Kevin fell in love with baseball as a young boy, following his father (Matt’s granddad) to games all over the state. Gary Paulsen umpired high school baseball games for more than 40 years, piling up the miles while taking in America’s pastime. He’s forever entrenched in the Iowa Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, having tallied a state tournament streak of 32 straight summers umpiring the Iowa’s pinnacle. Kevin was blessed as a kid, often tagging along with his dad to games, touring the state as a duo. He witnessed the beautiful details of the game, and experienced how to build a successful team. He learned from the inside out, and it has stuck with him ever since, transferring those lessons over to his son.
Now, he gets to once again meander his way across Iowa, this time as an assistant on his son’s staff.
“It’s been fun,” Kevin said. “Being out of high school baseball the last six years, I jumped at the chance to get back. I know I would’ve regretted it.”
Kevin has coached for almost three decades, as an assistant and head coach at the old Southern Cal High School for seven years before joining Mark Sawhill’s staff at Jefferson-Scranton in 2003.
Kevin first noticed Matt gravitating toward the sport as a mere toddler. The father would come home from a day’s work and toss wiffle balls to Matt for hours on end. He never seemed to tire.
That’s where the father-son bond was born, and it’s carried on ever sense.
Matt is drawn to the historical aspects of baseball. Perhaps it’s why he asked his dad to join him in the dugout, there’s so much history shared between the two. Matt tagged along whenever he could as a kid, attending practices and bugging his dad to play catch. He helped manicure the fields and studied how Kevin interacted with the young players.
That’s where Matt excels, best, his dad said. He’s just 25, not even a grizzled veteran yet, but he really knows how to reach the Greene County athletes, showing them the value of baseball.
“He connects with the kids well,” Kevin said. “Not to just as a baseball coach, but he’s going to be someone that supports them on and off the field. That’s where he really excels right now. The Xs and Os will come. That’s the hard part.”.
Fine-tuning those early relationships is what matters now, Kevin said. Matt must stay true to his character.
“Just because someone is is doing it, doesn’t mean you have to,” Kevin said. “I told him about the importance of building relationships with the kids and parents. The communication and the willingness to listen is (so important).”
Matt’s role as a history teacher also helps him on the diamond. Naturally, the political aspect of baseball has always intrigued him. From the role baseball played in World War II and how it’s used as a coping mechanism - following 9/11 and after the Boston marathon bombing - down to the ability it has to connect cultures. Baseball truly is a sport that was made for Matt.
It’s why he feels it’s Iowa’s obligation to lead through baseball this summer as the first state to return to high school sports.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to show that we are going to get through this, no matter the challenge,” Matt said. “Being that first stepping stone, to find some enjoyment. I like how we’ve overcome so much in baseball.”
Of course, Kevin isn’t too used to taking a backseat to Matt, especially in the dugout. It’s been challenging to not take control too often, especially when he knows it’s not his place. He wants his son to know this is his team.
“There are times when I want to speak up, but he needs to choose the direction,” Kevin said. “I certainly am there to offer advice, but what is his vision?”
Just like his dad, who’s also a teacher, Matt is enjoys spending summers on the diamond, sharing his knowledge with bright-eyed teenagers. There’s nothing better, he said, and some times, baseball even lends itself to new lessons.
“Getting to spend my summer with the kids, seeing them have fun,” Matt said. “They even teach me new things, that’s what I love.”