Growing up 30 miles outside of Minneapolis in Forest Lake, Matt Wallner was just like any other young baseball fan who lived in the vicinity of the Twins’ Target Field.
His bedroom door was adorned with Twins paraphernalia and he made his way to several games a year to watch his baseball idols like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.
On Monday night, the Southern Miss star found out that he has been given a chance to follow in his favorite players’ footsteps.
With legendary Twins pitcher Jim Kaat making the announcement on the MLB Network, the organization made Wallner the 39th overall selection in the 2019 Major League Baseball draft on Monday – the highest selection ever for a USM baseball player.
Friends and family on hand in Hattiesburg erupted into cheers.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” Wallner said Tuesday. “There’s definitely a lot of hard work that has gone into it and help from family, friends and coaches. That makes it all better. They were the team I was hoping to go to the whole time. It was really fun to see your name picked up in that spot.”
Wallner’s parents traveled to Hattiesburg to be on hand for the start of the MLB draft on Monday and they tuned in to watch the picks roll in following the 32nd selection.
“My adviser told me I could go anywhere between 40 and at the latest as the 60th pick,” Wallner said. “I was definitely eying the 39th pick with the Twins.
“At pick 36, I got a call from my adviser and he asked if I’d be willing to go there. I said, ‘Of course.’”
Wallner did his best to contain his excitement so his parents and friends could find out when his name was announced on the MLB Network.
“They were super excited,” Wallner said. “It was fun to see my mom and dad get a little emotional. I think that’s definitely the team they were hoping for.”
The Twins first selected Wallner following a breakout senior season at Forest Lake High School as the 963rd overall selection in the 32nd round of the 2016 draft.
The Twins kept a close eye on Wallner during his playing days at USM and spoke with his adviser in advance of this year’s draft, but he had actually heard more from teams like the Astros and Royals prior to the draft.
On Monday night, he was happy to break out his old Twins cap.
“I have a couple of friends whose parents work for the organization,” Wallner said. “I’ve been around it my whole life.
Wallner expects to be shipped off soon to either the Twins’ Rookie League team in Elizabethton, Tennessee, or the Class A squad in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
A big night in Hattiesburg was made all the better for Wallner when he found out that Rice pitcher Matt Canterino was also picked by the Twins as the 46th overall selection. The two players did battle in Conference USA play, played together with USA baseball and with the Falmouth Commodores of the Cape Cod Baseball League.
“I was getting a lot of texts and (USM second baseman Matthew) Guidry sent me a text that said “CANTERINO” in all caps,” Wallner said. “That was really funny. (Canterino) messaged me. He’s happy for me and I’m happy for him. It’s going to be fun. He’s a good dude.”
Wallner took an unconventional path to USM after initially signing with North Dakota prior to his senior year of high school. After UND dropped its program, Wallner chose USM over offers from Minnesota and Kentucky.
The choice of USM has worked out well for Wallner as he leaves the school as the career record holder in home runs with 58. As a senior, he hit .323 and tied the USM single-season mark with 23 homers and 60 RBIs.
After Southern Miss was eliminated in the Baton Rouge Regional on Sunday, Wallner took to social media to thank Golden Eagle fans for their support over the last three years.
“Yeah, it’s scary. These have been the three best years of my life,” he said. “I’m thankful for everyone who helped me get here. North Dakota fell through. (Former UND coach Jeff Dodson) called me before anything happened last night. We’ve stayed in contact. It makes everything more meaningful. I wouldn’t change one thing.”