Matthew Gretler was often the youngest player to show up to baseball games in his Bonney Lake neighborhood cul-de-sac.
He was also the smallest, with his brother Michael and his friends all being four years older.
But, age gaps never stopped the younger Gretler from competing. And he proved he could play with the big kids.
“I can remember stories of him sliding on the concrete or jumping into the rocks — whatever it took to win,” Michael Gretler said. “That was him. He wanted to fit in, and even more than that wanted to stand out, and for us to recognize he belonged with us.”
Matthew Gretler kept that chip on his shoulder, and never lost his competitive edge.
“I used to slide on the cement because I didn’t want to lose to my brother,” he said. “That’s where a lot of my competitiveness comes from.”
After pacing Bonney Lake High School to the Class 3A state playoffs the past three seasons, and rewriting the Panthers’ record book along the way, Gretler is The News Tribune’s 2018 All-Area baseball player of the year.
He leaves to play college baseball at Oregon State owning 11 school career records and eight single-season offensive records — including 47 runs scored, 45 RBI and a 1.730 OPS as a senior,
“Coming into the year he owned just about every record in our book,” Bonney Lake coach Mike Olson said.
“He, already as (an underclassman), set several marks. He completely rewrote that this year. He just demolished it.”
Gretler posted a .481 batting average his final season — his 13 home runs accounting for half of the blasts he hit in his four-year career — to lead the Panthers to an undefeated 3A Pierce County League title and a 3A state quarterfinals appearance.
Olson said the younger Gretler is cerebral about the game.
Gretler pays attention to the fundamentals of his swing and his throwing motion at shortstop.
“All of the little details of the game some guys don’t even get, he is a master of those,” Olson said.
How did Gretler become one of the best baseball players Bonney Lake has ever seen?
By watching his brother play four years ahead of him — and having the drive to try to match him.
“I really appreciated how he played, so I wanted to be as good if not better than him,” Gretler said. “It wasn’t so much a competition, but just modeling my game after that.”
Olson coached both Gretler brothers in high school, and there are striking similarities between the two.
Like Matthew Gretler, Michael — a senior infielder at Oregon State, who was drafted in the 10th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates last week — was a standout for the Panthers.
Both have a knack for understanding the game, a relentless work ethic and a desire to reach their potential.
“That’s really why they’re so good,” Olson said. “They’ve got talent, but they’re both super driven. They’re extremely self-disciplined and they want to be the best.”
But, Matthew — though he was coaxed into wearing No. 10 as a freshman, Michael’s number, before switching to his current No. 22 — found ways to separate himself from his brother.
“I think he’s done a very good job of not living in anyone’s shadow,” Michael Gretler said. “He’s gone out and done it his way.”
Olson said Michael was a polished infielder when he entered high school, and worked more on his offensive game during his four seasons with the Panthers.
Matthew was the opposite. He came into high school aggressive at the plate, finishing his career with 126 hits, 138 runs scored, 98 RBI and a lifetime batting average of .447.
“I always thought of hitting as baseball,” Matthew Gretler said. “Some people think defense, but I always thought you win games by hitting.
“That’s what I always wanted to do was hit. I spent a lot more time at it when I was younger.”
Matthew Gretler worked more on fielding to round himself out as a player. Olson said both Gretler brothers were five-tool players by the time their careers wrapped up.
“Michael started as a defensive wizard, and his hitting grew as he went along,” Olson said. “Matthew came in as almost a finished product as a hitter, and defensively had to get better each year.
“By the time they were both done, they were both awesome on both sides.”
Olson said he’ll have to figure out life after Gretler, after having one of the brothers on the roster each of the past eight seasons.
Like his brother, Matthew Gretler will graduate from Bonney Lake to the Beavers — a move he said he’s looking forward to.
“To go down there knowing I’ll be able to compete at such a high level with the best of the best, I can’t wait for that, and for going out and proving what I can do,” he said.
Before he becomes the next Gretler to play in Corvallis, he’ll watch his brother play college ball for the last time in Omaha as the Beavers go for a NCAA title.
“They have a good shot this year, I know that,” Matthew Gretler said. “Seeing them succeed is always fun.
“People have their favorite sports teams — for me it was always watching my brother play. I want to see them succeed and hopefully win a national title.”
For Michael Gretler, he’s glad to see his younger brother headed to OSU next, and hopes both end up playing professionally. Maybe even together someday.
Because of the four-year age gap, the two just missed playing alongside each other in high school and college.
“I think we’re both on the right path, and as long as we continue to do things the right way, I think things will work out well,” Michael Gretler said.