'Really, really special': Tigers' Boyd recalls College World Series experience with Oregon State

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Kansas City, Mo. – Kurt Boyd found an old photo the other day and texted it to his son. The timing of it couldn’t have been any more poignant.

“He didn’t even know we were going to be playing in Omaha this week,” Tigers lefty Matthew Boyd said, chuckling. “It was a picture of me and Ashley (his wife) standing outside in Omaha with TD Ameritrade Stadium in the background.

“My dad said, ‘It was this week six years ago.’”

Matt Boyd pitches for Oregon State in the 2013 College World Series.

Baseball has a way of bringing memories back around. On Thursday, Boyd will take the mound once again at TD Ameritrade Field in Omaha, just about six years to the day after he pitched one of the most memorable games in the College World Series.

The last time he pitched there, on June 19, 2013, he pitched a complete game, four-hit shutout, helping Oregon State beat a powerhouse Indiana team 1-0 in an elimination game.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “It was the last time I took the mound in an Oregon State uniform. It was a special game, big scene – it was win or go home sort of thing and we were facing the best offensive team in the nation.

“Just really, really special.”

More: Omaha stake: Michigan upsets top-seeded UCLA, advances to CWS for first time in 35 years

This time, Boyd will be in the Olde English D, not his beloved Beavers orange and black, and pitching against the Central Division rival Royals. It will be the first time a regular-season Major League baseball game will be played there, and it will serve as a nationally-televised (ESPN) lead-in to the College World Series.

“In terms of the pinnacles of your career as a baseball player, getting to Omaha is one of the top couple on the list, outside of making it to the big leagues and playing in the World Series,” Chris Marinak, MLB’s executive vice president of strategy, technology and innovation told MLB.com. “Those are the handful of achievements you have in your head.

“We’re trying to bring together the professional and amateur game and celebrate the sport. It’s not about what the team is or what the league is; it’s about the game.”

It’s a bit of a logistical hassle for the Tigers, who play night games in Kansas City Tuesday and Wednesday, then fly to Omaha Thursday before flying home to start at three-game series with the Indians on Friday.

But Boyd is OK with it.

“It’s going to be cool to go back there,” said Boyd. “I remember, the tournament overlays itself over two brackets and you have scheduled off-days every other day. Ashley and I walked over one night and watched LSU play.”

JaCoby Jones, playing for LSU in 2013.

There he watched future teammate JaCoby Jones, who he knew from summer ball, battle North Carolina State.

“Kind of a small world moment,” he said. “Carlos Rondon was pitching, Aaron Nola was out there, JaCoby. I was just sitting in the bleachers with my girlfriend, who is now my wife of nearly five years and we’re going on two kids.

“It’s cool to think back on it and it’s cool how baseball is such a very special game in that regard – with time and memories.”

Boyd was drafted by the Reds after his junior year, but he went back to Oregon State for his senior year – largely because he wanted to get the Beavers to the College World Series. He felt he had some unfinished business.

And that June night in 2013 was the culmination of that. He outdueled Aaron Slegers, he didn’t allow a hit to Indiana’s top slugger Kyle Schwarber, and two of the Hoosiers he walked he picked off first – a precursor to the Boyd we’re watching lead the Tigers pitching staff now.

“It was so awesome,” he said. “At the time, it was the biggest crowd in that park’s history. And it’s kind of what you dream of, right? You go out on that stage and pitch your best game. It was win or go home. You can’t ask for a better situation to leave it all out there.”

Something else happened that day. A conversation, chronicled in the Portland Tribune by Kerry Eggers, that gave an early window into the fire that burns inside Matthew Boyd. It was a conversation he had with his father before he left for the park.

"How you feeling?" Kurt Boyd asked.

"Feeling really well," Matt replied.

"You know, your college career could end tonight," Kurt said.

After a pause, Matt looked his father in the eyes.

"Not now. No way," he said. "It's not going to end today."

"He gave me a big hug, and he was out the door," says Kurt Boyd, choking up at the thought. "And then he went out on that mound and … it was almost surreal to watch what he did out there on that grand stage."

The stakes won’t be as high on Thursday, but the memories will vivid.

On deck: Royals

Series: Three-game series at Kauffman Stadium, TD Ameritrade Park

First pitch: Tuesday-Wednesday – 8:15 p.m.; Thursday – 8:05 p.m.

TV/radio: Tuesday-Wednesday – FSD/97.1; Thursday – ESPN/97.1

Probables: Tuesday – RHP Jakob Junis (4-6, 5.63) vs. RHP Spencer Turnbull (3-5, 3.01); Wednesday – LHP Danny Duffy (3-3, 4.68) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (2-5, 4.60); Thursday – RHP Homer Bailey (4-6, 5.90) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (5-4, 3.08).

Twitter @cmccosky