Baseball: Alexandria's Matthew Carlsen breaking records at Bethel
A critical thinker by nature, Carlsen -- a former three-sport standout for the Cardinals -- is shining at Bethel University in the classroom and on the baseball field where he set multiple single-season records for the Royals in 2022.
ALEXANDRIA — There is a common saying in baseball that the best approach at the plate is simply to see the ball and hit it. The implication being that thinking too much can get a batter into trouble.
There is truth to that for some, and to an extent, Alexandria native Matthew Carlsen followed that to a record-setting sophomore season at Bethel University in St. Paul this past spring.
“Always in my mentality playing baseball, I’ve felt going up to the plate that I expect to do better than the pitcher even if they’re really good,” Carlsen said. “I have to trust my swing and have good pitch selection. Then just hit the ball when it comes. I’m technical with my mechanics, but I’m not technical with positioning of the ball or pitches. I don’t try to pick up the different spins of the ball. I kind of just sit back and let it come to me and hit it. Try to keep it simple.”
But keeping it simple is not necessarily in Carlsen’s nature. He is certainly a critical thinker in many aspects of his life.
Carlsen, a 2020 graduate of Alexandria Area High School who played football, hockey and baseball, is a mechanical engineering major at Bethel with a 4.0 GPA. In high school, he created a machine that taped hockey sticks , a project that combined his passion for engineering, physics and sports.
Carlsen’s play on the baseball field this season and his work in the classroom earned him the Elite 22 Award on May 24. It is an honor given by the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference that recognizes a student-athlete who has reached a pinnacle in their sport while also achieving the highest academic standard among his or her peers.
“It’s pretty impactful,” Carlsen said. “I know all the time I spend studying. Going to eat after practice and then immediately going to the library almost every day. It’s nice to see that the hard work pays off. I never really knew about the award, honestly, until I won it.”
A record setting season
Carlsen entered the 2022 baseball season coming off of a good 2021 campaign for Bethel where he hit .416 with a .485 on-base percentage. He started 19 of the 30 games the Royals played.
Carlsen was still predominantly a contact hitter at that time. Twenty-nine of his 37 hits that year were singles, and he finished with 11 RBIs and a slugging percentage of .517.
Where Carlsen saw his biggest jump as a sophomore came in some of his power numbers. He set single-season Bethel records for runs scored (56), hits (73), RBIs (57) and total bases (119).
His slugging percentage, the metric frequently used to measure a hitter’s proficiency for extra-base hits, jumped to .655.
After not hitting a home run as a freshman, Carlsen hit 8 of them in 2022. He added 12 doubles, two triples, 19 walks and 14 times was hit by a pitch to finish with an on-base percentage of .505.
“One thing that surprised me was hitting so many home runs,” Carlsen said. “If you watched me in high school, I never really hit home runs or had that much power. I did change my swing a little bit to stand up taller and try to stay back more and drive through the hips.”
Carlsen, who plays center field defensively, is playing at about 180 pounds. That is up about 10 pounds from high school. The jump in some of that additional power has mostly come as a result of a different approach at the plate.
“A lot of it is not hitting the ball out front like I have done,” Carlsen said. “I also started swinging harder. In hitter’s counts, I try to drive the ball. In the past in high school, I was very much a feel hitter. I would see the ball and try to place the bat with my hands and swing very much with my forearms and hands. My body matured a little bit.”
An impact on winning
As Carlsen’s production went up, so too did his team’s.
Bethel went 24-17 in 2021 with a 14-11 record in the MIAC. The Royals were 35-11 this past spring, finishing first in the conference with a 16-4 record.
Bethel won the MIAC playoffs with a win over Concordia College and two wins against Gustavus Adolphus. In the NCAA Division III championships, the Royals beat the College of Wooster out of Wooster, Ohio, and then fifth-ranked Webster University of Missouri in a 7-5 game on May 22. Carlsen was 2-for-5 with a double, two RBIs and a run scored in that game.
"It’s about emphasizing having fun out there, not trying to play for the stats because that adds a lot of stress and pressure that is unnecessary."
Bethel’s run came to an end in a rematch with the College of Wooster on May 23 when Wooster won the regional championship with 11-8 and 11-6 wins.
“It’s awesome. For pretty much all the games, there was maybe one person (hitting) under .300 in our lineup,” Carlsen said. “You can’t get RBIs and a lot of stats without getting a lot of at-bats a game and succeeding as a team. It was just really fun to succeed with a lot of guys who are really good and see a team that was able to play to their potential do some great things.”
A look to the future
Bethel will return a good nucleus from this team for the 2023 season, and Carlsen is likely to be a big part of that again.
He will spend this summer playing town ball for the St. Michael Saints as he stays around the Twin Cities to work at an engineering internship through Bone Foam — a company in Corcoran that produces foam patient positioners that help hold patients in place for surgeons during surgeries.
Exactly what Carlsen wants to do with a mechanical engineering degree in the workforce is starting to come into focus.
“I want to work more in electromechanical robotics-type stuff,” Carlsen said. “Or robotics that are consumer based, so stuff that actually touches people, not just manufacturing robots.”
There is plenty of pressure that can come outside of competition in the life of a college athlete. Carlsen does not want that to be the case for him on the diamond.
After back-to-back seasons hitting over .400, he knows there will be expectations of another big season as a junior. His goal is to remember what led to so much success. In a sense, keep it simple.
“It’s trying to overcome that pressure and just continue to trust my swing and trust having fun,” Carlsen said. “It’s about emphasizing having fun out there, not trying to play for the stats because that adds a lot of stress and pressure that is unnecessary.”