INDIANAPOLIS — 32-year-old Matthew Alexander is described as reliable, genuine, kind and a baseball fanatic who loved craft beer and Christmas by those who knew him best.
The former Avon high school baseball and basketball player was honored on Friday before the Oriels opening pitch on Senior Day.
Walking up to the baseball fields at Avon high school stands a flag at half-staff in honor of Matt Alexander, who is one of eight victims killed in the FedEx mass shooting. He was only 32.
Head baseball coach Troy Drosche and Assistant Baseball Coach Bob McPike stood holding each other, visibly emotional and holding a jersey to honor a player they both coached.
Matt’s sister, mom, dad, friends, family, and former players stood on the field holding one another.
A moment of silence kept time still, as everyone present remembered the 2007 graduate Matt Alexander.
Matt’s father threw out the opening pitch.
“That felt like that was part of Matt. Matt was a pitcher for Avon, he was a shortstop for Avon. I didn’t do near as well as he did in the day, but I was there, and I knew he was looking down saying ‘thank you dad,’" said Brad Alexander.
“My whole childhood was baseball,” said Matt’s 28-year-old sister Michelle.
“I started watching him [Matt play baseball] when I was literally born. So I grew up watching baseball every summer, every night. I mean, it was my life. So right here today, I honestly feel at home at the ball fields,” she added.
Matthew Alexander remembered as a baseball fan
“This is a great unexpected tribute,” said Brad, his wife Debbie and daughter Michelle both nodded their heads in agreement.
“He’s looking down on us and Matt was a guy of very few words, but he would say ‘thanks’ and smile and you knew from the bottom of his heart he appreciated it,” said Brad.
“The actual on the field part of the game is, it’s about these players today. And yet Matt’s…Matt’s right here,” said Coach McPike as he lifted his right hand touching his heart each time, he said Matt’s name.
Coach Drosche said he started his career at Avon with Matt on his team.
“In 2003 I first started teaching at Avon high school and my first assignment as a coach was the freshman basketball team, and matt was a player on that team, very fierce competitor, extremely hard working, a quiet kid. He was part of an undefeated team. And one of the highlights of my coaching career was coaching that team,” said Drosche.
“He was also in the baseball program, where I also coached him in freshman baseball, JV baseball and then ... as an assistant with the varsity team. So I kind of moved up the ranks through the baseball program, with Matt actually,” said Drosche.
“He loved the game,” Drosche said with emphasis.
Coach McPike’s son and stepson were both on the same team as Matt.
“I played softball with him one time after he graduated. With a bunch of his friends, and that was fun after being his coach and he was the same Matt all he did was smile, have fun, play ball and make plays. Just a fun night,” said Coach McPike.
THE THREE AMIGOS
Two of Matt’s best friends have been his best friends for well over a decade. Josh Betustak has been best friends with Matt since they were in third grade.
“1997, we were nine, Matt and I bonded over baseball and we’ve been hanging out ever since,” said Betustak. “We would play in a backyard baseball league, and we would take it serious."
“It’s not easy to find people who would take playing baseball in the back yard with a tennis ball very serious, and Matt was one of those guys, and so was Ryan,” said Betustak.
In high school, Matt and Josh found another brother, Ryan Sheets.
In a joint Zoom call with Betustak and 13News, Sheets said in 2005 “I got to know Matt and Josh together because they were friends."
As soon as Sheets began mentioning how he decided he was too talented to try out for baseball (he later admitted he wasn’t able to make the team), the sarcasm in his voice and the smile across Betustak’s face made one thing abundantly clear: These three were thick as thieves and would sarcastically taunt each other as brothers do.
“Going back to Ryan’s tryout,” said Betustak, a smile came across Sheets face.
“When Matt and I saw Ryan, because Ryan’s a big guy, he was taking it seriously but not taking it seriously, and everyone kind of knew it too, and then we, Matt and I, were teasing him,” said Betustak. “And then it just clicked."
“They were inseparable,” said Coach Drosche. “When I saw one, I saw the other ... They were closer than a lot of brothers."
And when Sheets moved to Florida and Betustak moved to Baltimore it just meant that more miles had to be traveled to see one another, but the friendship remained.
RELIABLE AND STEADY
“We’ve had a lot of things happened and different life experiences and things but whenever I’m with matt I remember who I was when I was fifteen and I like that person,” said Sheets holding back tears.
“Matt’s one of those people who’s always steady. He’s the simple true friend that everybody wishes that they had,” added Sheets. “Matt is one of those people who makes you comfortable and is selfless."
“He was just a genuine human being. Super reliable, if you ever needed anything from him you just knew you were always going to get a response ‘yes’ whatever you needed” said Betustak.
When both of his best friends moved out of state, Matt didn’t hesitate to help them get settled in.
“He rode with me and my brother Mathew and our pet cat in a U-Haul from Indianapolis to Baltimore for ten hours,” said Betustak.
“We squeezed him in the middle too," Betustak said.
Betustak said he even had the cat on his lap and “Matt was more of a dog person,” so Betustak would tease him every couple hours by asking him “Matt can you take care of the cat?"
Matt would look at them and say “what do you want me to do?” said Betustak.
For anyone who’s ever been on a long road trip with friends in tight quarters, these are the type of nostalgic memories that bring a smile to one’s face for decades. All the quirks, teasing and silly moments are what make them beautiful.
Remembering 32-year-old Matthew Alexander who died in the FedEx mass shooting
Sheets said Matt also came down to Florida “on his own dime” to help him move.
“He flew from Indiana to where I lived in Florida on his own dime,” said Sheets.
Matt helped clean Sheets' apartment which Sheets said included "taking my stove apart and scrubbing it to where we were both dizzy from fumes, packed my truck up with me and then just drove screeching tires into the ballpark in Atlanta to go watch my favorite player’s number get retired."
“I mean he dedicated like ten days of vacation time and his own money to just help me move and then just go do the things I wanted to do,” Sheets added.
Sheets wasn't the only one who experienced Matt's acts of kindness and selfless friendship.
“I’ve been in Baltimore for four years now and he’s taken about four weeks of vacation time to help me either move in or just hang out and have a few beers and catch a few baseball games,” said Betustak.
“It means a lot that he would always dedicate that time,” Betustak added.
FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME
Ryan, Matt and Josh said their shared love of baseball extended beyond just being on the field. “We had a shared love of baseball cards and had quite a collection together,” said Betustak.
They also had a game they would play with other players on the team as well “Urshmen Bob, I think it was called,” he added.
The kids would play it on the bus or during rainouts Coach McPike recalled.
“You just start naming random players. And then you have to name a player who started with the same first letter of the last name, and we would get coach McPike involved, and he would love that,” said Betustak.
“But Matt and I since we're nerds about baseball, we would know some players the other teammates didn’t know so we would play the game for a while,” said Betustak.
Matt’s love of baseball was one that he was pretty much born into, and a passion all of the Alexanders share.
But when asked where Matt get his love of baseball from, mom, dad and sister all pointed to dad.
“I coached him since he was five basically until he got into high school,” said Matt’s father.
“When he was two, my husband was a big St. Louis Cardinals fan, and we had a Cardinals game on and it [was] when Ozzie Smith played for them and he was their shortstop and he used to do backflips. Matt would stand in front of the TV and just go nuts when Ozzie would do a backflip,” said Debbie.
Both Betustak and Sheets said Ozzie Smith was still Matt’s favorite player of all time.
“He’s got autographed jerseys and all kinds of things of Ozzie,” said Debbie.
“I wish you could see the inside of Matt’s house, he has all these collectibles,” said Sheets.
“One of his rooms is like this baseball shrine. It’s a bedroom but it’s been converted into a man cave and a baseball shrine. The closet is full of baseball cards, and there’s signed baseball cards and bobbleheads,” said Sheets.
“We would love to go over there and wander and marvel and also tease him too because what he’s kept is just totally ridiculous,” said Sheets.
For example, a two-foot sasquatch next to his TV.
“He loved watching ‘finding bigfoot’’ said his mom Debbie.
“We were trying to guess the price of what he paid for it,” said Betustak, as Sheets began laughing recalling the moment.
“It was a shocking amount that he paid for that,” said Sheets smiling.
Ryan, Matt and Josh would often take spontaneous road trips to go to games. Like driving down to Cincinnati right after graduation on a whim “with no plan really… just probably eat at Wendy’s” when they arrived and when they were going to a game. It’s these kinds of experiences where the best memories are often made.
“I would have loved for Matt to have met my kids," said Sheet pausing as he became filled with emotions. “…But there’ll be stories,” he added.
“They’ll definitely know about Matt, no doubt about it,” said Betustak.
Betustak said Matt “was a dear friend with many memories. A lot we’ve had and a lot more that was coming. What we had for the last twenty-something years was special and it’s going to be tough. Because a lot of the things I do I would like to tell him about,” said Betustak.
“Even yesterday, we bring up a story and you’re like I can’t wait to tease Matt about that later. And then it hits ya, it’s just going to be memories from now on, but great ones,” said Betustak with tears in his eyes.
NOT JUST BASEBALL
“He was as much of a corn-fed legendary Indiana jump shooter as you could imagine,” said Sheets. Which made sense considering he was part of an undefeated freshman basketball team at Avon.
“He had a totally unimposing physical presence but then we’d go to the YMCA.. and I guarantee you by the end of the first game you had the whole other team wanting to know where Matt was,” every time he stepped on the court so that they could defend against him said Sheets.
His “jump shots” were perfection from the three-pointer line.
He was also “an avid golfer,” said Sheets.
“Very natural at it,” added Betustak.
CHRISTMAS AND CRAFT BEER AND A GIFT OF GIVING GIFTS
“Matt loved Christmas,” said Debbie, his sister Michelle let out a light laugh of joy recalling her brother's Christmas spirit.
Dad smiled looking off in the distance with his hand on his daughter's back. "He also loved craft beer," said Debbie. It one of the reasons she made him a Christmas tree combining his two loves.
“He was the best gift-giver,” said Debbie, the whole family nodding in agreement.
“You never knew what you were going to open up from him on Christmas. And my present from him ... which will be my last present from him,” she said with emotion and hand clasping her chest, realizing the reality. Her husband put his hand on his wife’s back.
“…was a leaf blower,” she added. “I laugh because I was at my brother's house doing some yard work and I was having a heyday just blowing stuff around."
“So, Matt decided that’s what he was going to get me for Christmas. But he bought the most wonderful gifts because they were selected from his heart,” said Debbie.
Brad whispered, “the zoo,” to Debbie.
“Oh yeah, I turned sixty and last July,” said Debbie. “And he gave me a gift to go to the zoo and meet with the orangutans and meet with them and have them paint for me,” said Debbie.
“I will treasure that forever because I have the painting and pictures of us together,” she added.
"Just hug your kids tell them you love them because you never know when will be the last time that you’ll see them," said Debbie.
FOR THE LOVE OF MATT AND FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME
The Alexanders said in the near future they plan to honor Matt by sharing his love of baseball.
They plan to establish the Matt Alexander Scholarship.
“Matt touched so many lives here [at Avon High School] and at Avon junior athletic association since he was five. He coached down there after he played, he umpired down there, and he gave the game of baseball to so many people out there and we just thought it was an opportunity for him to pass his abilities and his knowledge towards a scholarship towards the community,” said Brad.
His sister said he will be remembered not only for being a big baseball fan and a great friend but also for having a heart of gold.
"My best friend on earth," Michelle said. "He had a heart of gold and was my biggest cheerleader in life. We fought as siblings do but we have the closest sibling bond that I could ever imagine, and I don’t know what I’m going to do without him in my life."