The Gorgens share more than a birthday as they aim for the Major Leagues.
Photography by Drew Kelly
The story of Matt and Scott Gorgen is one of amusing similarities. They are twins. Both were star baseball players at Clayton Valley High. Both signed to pitch professionally. Both had the same elbow surgery, temporarily derailing their careers. Twins with twin scars.
The 25-year-old brothers, however, have taken markedly different paths to this intersection. When they were newborns, one fought for his life in the hospital while the other came home. When they were little boys, they fought each other, developing a love-hate relationship that only a twin could understand. And as they matured, one took the lead while the other struggled to get out of his brother’s shadow.
“It was hard,” their mom, Sue, says. “We were excited for Matt, and we knew Scott had the same potential. He just hadn’t had the opportunity.”
Today, mother and sons can all look back on the awkward relationship knowing that it has worked out, although the ultimate happy ending hasn’t yet been penned.
After rehab from the elbow surgeries caused them to miss the entire 2011 season, the twins will continue their quest to reach the Major Leagues this month, at spring training. Each figures to begin the 2012 season in the minor leagues—Matt in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ farm system and Scott in the St. Louis Cardinals’.
Reaching the Major Leagues requires a player to defy the odds, but the twin who has been an underdog since he left the womb is undaunted.
“I’m going down swinging,” Scott says. “That’s the way I came into this world. If my arm doesn’t hold up and they take the jersey out of my locker, then I’ll look at other things. But I’m not going down without a fight.”
Bio: Matt Gorgen
January 27, 1987,
5’11’’, 203 pounds
2008, Tampa Bay Rays, 16th round
Date of surgery:
Bio: Scott Gorgen
January 27, 1987,
5’10’’, 190 pounds
2008, St. Louis Cardinals, fourth round
Date of surgery:
Matt, who has always been the more laid-back, self-assured of the twins, now finds himself needing to take notes from his brother, summoning the fire to overcome obstacles to reach his goal. They talked on the phone four or five times a week over the past year, inspiring each other to get beyond the roadblocks they faced. Each was fully invested in pushing the other to succeed, which was not always the case.
Sue Gorgen and her husband, Chris, welcomed their babies—identical twins—into the world on January 27, 1987, five weeks early. Matt was strong enough to come home after just three and a half weeks in the hospital, but Scott struggled. “He nearly died, lots of times,” Sue says. “He was on a ventilator for three months.” Because the hospital didn’t want to subject Matt to the germs, Sue couldn’t bring him when she went back to be with Scott. She essentially spent months with only one of her babies at a time. Once Scott came home, he still had to be on oxygen periodically. He had recurrent seasonal respiratory infections and frequently returned to the hospital. Around age four, he finally outgrew his lung problems and was mostly healthy. His only remaining issue was that the infections had cost him a 30- to 35-percent loss of hearing in both ears, requiring him to wear bulky hearing aids.
“It was like a bull’s-eye on my back to get picked on,” says Scott, who now wears barely noticeable hearing aids that fit inside his ears. “Some kid would see my hearing aids and then say, ‘Oh I’ll go pick on that kid.’ Then [Matt] would come up, and it would be two against one, and the other kid would go away crying.”
Any boy who grew up with a brother understands: No one picks on my brother but me. Like many siblings, Matt and Scott were at each other constantly, they say. “We could be in the middle of a store and arguing about a pencil, and we were brawling,” Matt says. “We’d be in a restaurant and talking about whose knife was sharper. We were so competitive, and it was great. I think we would have been competitive anyway, but it was great to do it with each other. I could say whatever I wanted to him, and I knew he wasn’t going to go crying to Mom. He’d come right back at me.”
As they grew up, the brothers shared a knack for sports. They were so dominant that they became known as a two-headed athletic monster, as they rose through Ygnacio Valley Christian School into Clayton Valley High.
Toward the middle of their high school careers, though, something changed. Matt dedicated himself to sports just a little more. He spent more time in the weight room, and he got bigger and stronger than his brother. In the summer between their junior and senior years, Matt was invited to play on an elite all-star baseball team, and Scott wasn’t. The letters and phone calls from college recruiters came streaming in for Matt. In the fall of his senior year, he accepted a baseball scholarship to UC Berkeley, much to the delight of his grandfathers and the other Old Blues in the family. Scott got nothing. Also that fall, Matt was the starting quarterback on the Clayton Valley football team, with all the “big man on campus” spoils that entails. Scott was a receiver and the punter.
“Our relationship in high school kind of sucked,” Matt says. “We were so at each other. I was trying to motivate him by getting mad at him. That’s how we always dealt with things. … He was resenting me because I had done so well, and he thought it was being given to me.”
Scott concurs: “I wanted to see him fail, for sure.”
Those words hit Sue hard, even years later, when the wounds have healed: “It was awful. I felt bad that Scott felt that way, and I was angry with him. I didn’t understand it. I tried to be compassionate and caring because obviously, he was struggling.” Sue says they had a few serious conversations over family dinners to help her sons work through this phase. Eventually, as is the case with most brothers who don’t get along, a little time and maturity helped. Oh, and so did Matt’s shoulder injury.
In the spring of their senior year, Matt hurt his shoulder and couldn’t take his projected spot as the baseball team’s ace pitcher. Then-coach Bob Ralston said to Scott, as Matt vividly recalls, “He’s hurt. You’re his brother. You can pitch like him. You pitch.” So Scott, who had been slated to be the starting catcher, began pitching and began drawing attention. By season’s end, with Matt’s shoulder healed, Clayton Valley had two outstanding pitchers. During one memorable playoff game, Scott pitched five scoreless innings before handing off to Matt to pitch the final two, completing the shutout. When the season was over, Scott had earned a baseball scholarship to UC Irvine.
Having sons playing at colleges 400 miles apart made for a lot of travel for Sue, a nurse educator, and Chris, who owns two East Bay Togo’s restaurants. “These guys were the parents of the year,” Matt says. Along with their daughter, Kristin, who is four and a half years younger than the twins, Sue and Chris would make the seven and a half hour drive to Irvine on Friday mornings because Scott was Irvine’s top pitcher, and typically pitched the first game of a three-game weekend series on Friday night. The family would be back on the road before dawn the next morning to get to Berkeley to see Matt, Cal’s closer, pitch on Saturdays and Sundays. Although they racked up a lot of miles following their sons, the Gorgens believed it was best for everyone that the twins be split up.
“My intention from the beginning was to go away,” Scott says. “I needed to be away from him and my family. I just needed to separate myself. I needed to go away and make a name for myself, and have my own friends, and not just be one of the Gorgen brothers.”
Not only did Scott’s team fare better than Matt’s—Irvine went to the College World Series for the first time in the program’s history during Scott’s sophomore year—but Scott emerged as a better professional prospect. When the Major League draft rolled around in 2008, Scott was picked in the fourth round by the Cardinals. Matt had to wait until the second day of the draft—when few of the players picked are considered prospects for the big leagues—before the Tampa Bay Rays took him in the 16th round. Both passed up their final year in college to sign pro contracts, and their paths immediately crossed again, as they were both assigned to minor league teams in the same league, in upstate New York. Matt played for the Hudson Valley Renegades and Scott for the Batavia Muckdogs. When their teams faced each other for the first time, and Matt started striking out Scott’s teammates, they kidded him, saying, “We got the wrong Gorgen.”
The twins moved up the minor league ladder, each skipping a level in 2009 and then jumping another level by the middle of that season. Sue and Chris went east to see their boys pitching in places like Montgomery, Alabama (“I wouldn’t recommend it in the summer,” Sue says), and Springfield, Missouri.
In 2010, Matt was the ace reliever for his team, impressive enough that the Diamondbacks gave up a Major League player to get him in a trade after the season. Meanwhile, Scott had suffered through much of 2010 with a mysterious elbow ailment that no one could quite diagnose. In September, they finally knew. He needed major reconstructive surgery. Tommy John surgery—named for the pitcher who first underwent the experimental procedure in 1974—is common among professional pitchers, but it’s not routine. The success rate is fairly high, but the surgery typically requires pitchers to miss at least 12 months.
Just as Scott was halfway through his recovery in March 2011, Matt was pitching in Major League spring training for his new team, the Diamondbacks. In his first game ever facing big league hitters, he felt a pain in his elbow. He also wound up needing Tommy John surgery.
The brothers, who so often were fierce rivals trying to top each other, suddenly had matching scars and a new topic of conversation. Their relationship had been healing and changing ever since they separated for college, but now they had another bond to share. They started talking on the phone as often as five times a week. They helped motivate each other along the frustrating, sometimes painful road back from the operating table. As they watched an entire season go by from the sidelines—and came to terms with the cruel reality that other prospects would move ahead of them while they healed—they challenged each other not to let their dreams die.
The arguments of childhood and the jealousy of the teen years yielded to a new relationship. “It’s not just a bond of brothers,” Matt says. “It’s like he’s my other half.”
The most satisfying chapter to this story would come if their paths intersect again in the Majors.
“When we were little kids, there was only one thing we wanted to do: play Major League baseball,” Matt says. “I would love to go out there before a game, when the Diamondbacks are playing the Cardinals, and see my brother on the field. That would be awesome. If it’s in five years or 10 years, it doesn’t matter. That would be the culmination of everything we worked for our entire lives.”
The elephant in the room, though, is, What happens if one of them makes the Majors and the other doesn’t? Would it be high school jealousy all over again? No chance.
“I don’t think there’d be a prouder moment than if he made it before me,” Matt says. “I’d be thinking, ‘My brother is in the big leagues.’ ”
Adds Sue: “They are adults now. If one of them makes it and the other doesn’t, they’ll still support each other, and be proud of each other. They will still be successful.”
Dealing With Sibling Rivalry
In 13 years of practicing sports psychology, Erika Carlson has encountered many families going through the same ups and downs the Gorgens faced. “I’ve seen siblings be competitive with each other,” says Carlson. “It can be helpful, or it can tear them apart.” Carlson, a mental skills coach at Excellence in Sport Performance, which has offices in Pleasanton and Walnut Creek, works with athletes and their parents. For parents who have multiple kids in sports, Carlson says some competition between siblings is acceptable. “I would encourage parents to get their kids to try to challenge each other, to use that dynamic to get better,” says Carlson, who has a master’s in sports psychology. However, Carlson says that parents should monitor the level of competition between their kids, and if it becomes counterproductive, they should help kids shift the focus. “It’s common to think in terms of comparisons: I am better than him or her,” Carlson says. “A lot of the messaging you need to send out is to figure out how they can each be their own personal best, and allow that to drive the training. Set their own goals and do the best they can, rather than base their performance on someone else’s performance.”