Matt Byars, Michigan State University baseball’s award-winning catcher for the 2016-2017 seasons, died Tuesday at 27 while rock climbing in Colorado, according to a press release from the team.
Head Coach Jake Boss Jr. said the only word to describe the news is "shocking."
"These guys are young and athletic, little kids see them as superheroes," Boss Jr. said Friday. "For something like this to happen to a guy that strong and vibrant, it's very sad."
Byars, a Wisconsin native, transferred to MSU after two highly successful seasons at Heartland Community College in Normal, Illinois.
That move put a "chip on his shoulder," Boss Jr., calling him a "no nonsense" player whose competitive spirit made him a "spark both offensively and defensively."
In his first season at MSU, Byars received the Danny Litwhiler Defensive Player of the Year team award after throwing out 12 runners and leading the Big Ten conference in doubles.
He was then drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 24th round, but decided to stay in East Lansing to play out his senior season with MSU, starting 47 games and throwing out 12 base stealers.
"I give him a lot of credit [for turning the offer down]," Boss Jr. said. "I don't know a lot of guys who would have done that."
After graduating, Byars didn't receive another major league offer.
He turned down chances to play in other capacities, as he was "ready to hang it up" and "start the next chapter of his life," Boss Jr. said.
Despite his grief, Boss Jr. is comforted by the knowledge that Byars "lived his life to the fullest" and "passed away doing something he loved."
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