By: Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
RALEIGH, North Carolina – Mathieu Deneault-Gauthier has moved into the next chapter, and he couldn’t be happier about where the page turn led him.
After playing with the Canadian Junior National Team and venturing away from his home in Candiac, Que., last summer to attend a showcase event with the Atlanta Elite Roadrunners, he got an offer from North Carolina State University that was too good to pass up.
“The summer before last year I played with Team Elite Prime in Georgia,” Gauthier said. “At a Perfect Game event, Scott Foxhall, the pitching coach here, came up to me and asked if I wanted to come and visit NC State. I did, and came here for my visit and liked it a lot. They obviously have a good team, but the facilities are nice and everything is cool, so I decided to come here.”
Prior to his official visit to Raleigh, Gauthier had been exploring multiple options to take his game to the next level. In the end, the continued conversations he had with Foxhall made the final decision easy for him.
“I had been thinking about a lot of schools,” the 19-year-old said. “I was thinking about staying closer to home, with Boston College, universities in Maine, and I talked to Stanford a little bit, Clemson, Georgia, Kennesaw State.
“The reason why I came here was because I asked the same question to every pitching coach, and most of the pitching coaches don’t actually tell you what you want to know. Scott Foxhall sat down and explained to me everything he was doing and I really liked that. I thought they were really honest with me from the beginning and that made a big difference to me…
“It was more about pitching philosophy [than playing time]. It was a little bit about what my role would be, you always want to know if you’re going to pitch or not, but I felt like they were being honest about everything and I had a good understanding of what I was coming into.”
Gauthier got his feet wet right away with the team, pitching in the first series of the season for the Wolfpack in Hawaii, throwing 2 2/3 innings and allowing two runs on three hits with one walk and six strikeouts in his first collegiate outing.
“It was awesome,” he said. “There was a lot of adrenaline, so that was something I need to watch. I wanted to be down in the zone a little more, but it was awesome. My first [strikeout] was good. I came in with three guys on base and I struck out the last guy to get out of the inning and that was awesome. It was a lot of fun. It was probably my best time as a pitcher.”
Though he admits he was probably trying to do a little bit too much in that first outing, Gauthier came away with an understanding of the adjustments he would need to make in order to succeed at the college level.
“At first, I had a lot of adrenaline going,” Gauthier said. “I was throwing the ball too high, and as soon as you start throwing high, they just kill you. But right now it’s been really good. I’ve figured a lot of things out and I throw down way more than I used to, and I can throw my three pitches for strikes…
“I learned that whether you’re playing in college or with Team Canada, or back home, it doesn’t really matter. You still need to execute your pitches, throw down in the zone, and you do that, you’re going to do well. The biggest thing here is the hitters are really, really good. They’re not going to chase sliders down in the zone. If you pitch poorly, they’re going to hurt you.”
Coming into a very welcoming environment in Raleigh, Gauthier credits his easy transition in part to his foreign background. The team has a lot of fun with the Quebecois hurler, and the first note listed on the squad’s website page with his biographical information is that he is the “First French-Canadian player in Wolpack history.”
“They were really, really nice to me right away,” Gauthier said. “Being a French-Canadian makes you something to talk about, so they want to know more about you and that makes it easier coming in and knowing nobody. They just want to know what you do, and that really helped me. Most people think that coming in as a French-Canadian is hard but they were really nice and I’ve got great teammates, so it’s fun to be around here.”
The biggest obstacle for Gauthier so far has been the pronunciation of his name among the team, even after he dropped his mother’s name, Deneault – with her blessing – from the hyphenated version in order to make it easier.
“They can’t pronounce my name at all, it’s awful,” Gauthier said. “Joe Dunand on the team, the shortstop, he pronounces it pretty well, but he’s the only one. Our pitching coach is trying to get it. I don’t know what it is, but it seems hard for them.”
Another challenge Gauthier has faced in his first year at college is on the academic side, making adjustments to taking his classes in his second language and utilizing all of the resources offered by the institution in an attempt to make it easier.
“I’m in business,” the 6-foot-1, 160-pound righty said. “I’m doing accounting, economics, business intro classes. I study a lot, and obviously there’s a language barrier but it was harder at the beginning. I always went to school in French, so my first few classes were kind of weird to jump right into it.
“I needed to be more focused in order to hear 100 per cent what the teachers were saying. But we’ve got a lot of support here. We’ve got an academic advisor and everything that we need in order to be good.”
With an upbringing where he spent a lot of time speaking English, and impressively fluent in speaking the language, Gauthier can only imagine how tough it might be for some of his French former teammates who weren’t so well-versed in the language as they entered the college realm.
“It can be challenging,” he said. “It can be really hard, especially for the first semester with all of the adjustments you have to make. But we’ve got tutors all the time and we’ve got everything we need, and I use them for some classes, especially for accounting. Accounting is hard. But if you use all of those, even if English is your second language, you can be fine, but it is challenging.”
Aiding in the adjustment to all things collegiate for Gauthier was his time with the Canadian Junior National Team program, the competition he matched up against with Team Canada, and the advice passed along to him from Baseball Canada’s director of national teams, Greg Hamilton.
“It helped a lot,” Gauthier said. “Obviously playing against pro players is kind of the same. The players are the same, the hitters are really good when you face them when you play with Team Canada, but Greg also helped a lot when he talked about college. When he explained it, he explained exactly how it would be actually. So that really helped. I thought I was really prepared when I came here, and I had everything I needed to come in and perform well, and Team Canada was a big part of that.”
Though not everything Hamilton passed on sunk in as Gauthier was hearing it, the young pitcher has a greater appreciation for the lessons now that he is living through the experience.
“He talked a lot about being away from home and how that can be hard, and how coaches can be hard on you,” Gauthier said. “They’re really nice, but they want you to perform. That was the biggest thing Greg was trying to make a point of, if you don’t perform, you’re not going to play, so you need to make sure you do perform.
“You need to make sure you’re ready, you need to make sure everything is working, and that’s the biggest thing. When I came here, I knew what I needed to do. I knew that even if I give up four runs it doesn’t matter. They want me to stay in the game, they want me to compete, they want me to execute pitches, and that’s the point Greg made and that really helped.”
Playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Gauthier has had a quick introduction to some of the top competition college baseball has to offer. Though his 14 1/3 innings, the right-hander has a 5.65 ERA inflated by the lone outing in which he did not throw multiple frames, with three walks and 15 strikeouts, and is looking forward to many more opportunities as the season progresses.
“You have to be your best every time you go out there or you’re not going to do well,” he said. “That’s what you want. For me, I wanted to play against the best in order to be the best one day, and so this was a perfect match. It’s a great conference, you’ve got great fans, you’ve got great players, this is a great team.”
Through its first 25 games, the Wolfpack is 13-12 with a 4-5 record in the ACC. Gauthier is excited about the players he has joined and what more they have to offer in the upcoming weeks.
“We’re confident,” Gauthier said. “We’ve got a lot of guys coming back, and obviously it’s a hard conference. They did well last year but we always expect to be good, and it comes down to who plays the hardest; who plays to win. If we play hard, we’ll compete, if we’re focused and have some luck too – because luck is part of the game – if we have all those things we’ve got a good chance at having a really good team.”