From hard work at home to home runs as a Hoosier: The journey of Indiana catcher Matthew Ellis

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“Do everything to the best of your ability, no matter what.”

Growing up in Kentucky, Matthew Ellis was raised in a family where hard work was the name of the game, and his father’s words reflected that. His father, Mike, left home every day at six in the morning to go to work, and Matthew says that Mike “is the hardest worker I’ve ever met in my life. I couldn’t have asked for a better father.

Matthew quickly adapted to his father’s lifestyle, even if it meant living with a competitive father who wouldn’t bother with his son.

“He always made it difficult for me when we were competing. Whether it was basketball or ping pong, he would never let me win and I would get so angry,” Ellis said. “But I think it fueled me as I got older, especially when you’re competing against someone else.”

Ellis joked that he could finally start beating his dad at pong pong by the end of high school because he was getting older and his hand-eye coordination wasn’t as good.

Ellis began his college baseball career at the University of Tennessee after graduating from Shelby County High School. But, after just one season with the Volunteers, Ellis donned a redshirt and transferred to Walters State Community College, moving northeast from Knoxville to Morristown.

Matthew Ellis pictured at Walters State Community College. (Photo courtesy of Walters State Community College)

“It was a pretty easy transition for me,” Ellis said. “I have made some great relationships [at Tennessee]but I just felt like it wasn’t the right place at the right time. [Walters State] was close and convenient for me.

It was especially easy because Ellis already knew Senators head coach David Shelton.

“We had recruited Matthew out of high school before he committed to Tennessee,” Shelton said. “I thought we were really close to having it.”

After Ellis realized Tennessee wasn’t going to work for him, he contacted Shelton, who said, “We welcomed him with open arms. We needed to catch, and he’s what we’re known for: signing big, physical, hard hitters. It fit our mold a lot.

Walters State has always been known as an offensive powerhouse, so it made sense that Ellis went from the biggest school in the SEC to the smallest community college. The biggest problem with Ellis, however, was his defense. Scouts said they were a little “rough around the edges” defensively after a year with the Volunteers.

But Ellis was determined to improve the defensive side of his game, as blocking balls was the big problem for the 6-foot-4, 240-pound safety net. Ellis was set up with all the right tools, and it paid off. Ellis “improved the jumps and limits defensively,” Shelton said of Ellis during his two years with the Senators.

“It was nothing we did, it was a testament to his hard work,” Shelton said. “We just gave him a setting to allow him to improve those things and he did. He was always one of the hardest workers on the team, both defensively and offensively.

Ellis says he has many fond memories and stories as a senator, but the best on his mind was, as he puts it, “winning the state tournament when we should have been eliminated.” He finished with a solid .332 average, .470 on-base percentage and .649 hitting percentage with 21 homers in 87 games played.

Matthew Ellis (35) celebrates with teammates during Indiana’s home opener on March 1. (Photo HN/Ryan Lo)

Ellis then made the jump to a Power 5 team when he committed to Indiana in the offseason. It was the second transition of schools for Ellis in three years as the now redshirted junior found a third home, but it came with challenges.

“At first it was a bigger jump than I thought,” Ellis said. “The speed of the game at the start was difficult for me to take defensively, then over time it was much easier.”

Thirty-one games into the season, Ellis not only became the team’s go-to catcher, but became one of Bloomington’s top baseball players. Going into this weekend’s series against Rutgers, Ellis is atop the Big Ten with 12 home runs this season, and also leads the team with 36 RBIs. Clearly, the transition hasn’t been too difficult for the Indiana wide receiver, who has been a mainstay on the Indiana lineup this season, ranking in the top half of the Big Ten in most offensive categories.

Ellis’ ultimate goal this season is to win the Big Ten title.

Three schools in four years. Countless memories created. Hundreds of hours honing his skills. For Matthew Ellis, all the hard work paid off.

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