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Matt Szczur on on His Baseball Career and Using NFT Art as a Way to Change Lives
BY ERIC P. RHODES - Eric is an award-winning Crypto Art artist, renowned Trash Art artist, and creator of the iconic NFT collection, Unofficial Punks. Working exclusively in the Web3 space since 2019. 💬 Follow Eric on Twitter
Matt Szczur made his MLB debut in 2014 playing for the Cubs, but did you know he also excelled at college football? I invited him to discuss his career in sports and find out how he went from a professional baseball player to an NFT artist.
We chat about his path through professional baseball, the role art played in his life, how he sold art to baseball legends like Mark McGwire, and how he saved a little girl’s life by donating bone marrow.
What was 10-year-old Matt into? How did baseball and art play into your life?
I grew up in New Jersey. I was always doing sports: baseball, football, hockey, soccer, wrestling, you name it. My older brother and I were always competing and we had a lot of fun. It also made us get better at whatever we did.
As far as art goes, I’ve always been taking art classes throughout grade school, middle school, high school… My dad was also really into art and really creative. He also had a sketchbook and I feel like I grew up always surrounded by some kind of art.
In college, I sort of drifted away from it, but then in my junior and senior year, I took some art classes like watercolors and art history. I just fell back in love with art immediately.
But to be completely honest with you, I never thought painting and crypto art would become my secondary profession. My wife and I still laugh about it, but it’s the coolest thing ever.
What role has art had for you through the years?
Painting and drawing are a release for me. Even in high school, there are certain pressures you put on yourself, especially when it comes to baseball or football.
But art is just something to focus on for that hour or two and get my mind off everything else. I can say that art definitely helps me manage things both mentally and physically.
Actually, one of the next pieces I'm doing is called Fighting My Demons. My specific demons are injuries, that’s how it is when you’re a professional athlete. As I’m trying to fight those battles and get better and healthy, art really helps me.
And how did you get back to art?
Strange enough, I found art again through crypto! Art hasn’t been a part of my life in a big way for the last 10 years. But, during the lockdown, I took advantage of all that time and dove into this space. What I’ve loved is the opportunity to connect with so many people and learn so much.
And when we won the World Series, I also understood that it was time to give back. My wife and I started a foundation to raise awareness, help the community, and do some good things in the world. Art has played into that work in a really important way.
We had an event and we were trying to figure out how to raise money. So, I decided to rely on my love for art and do some self-portraits that we could auction. We sold those pieces and then the Cubs asked me to make some for our big fundraiser as well. This piece sold for 40 grand! So I thought, you know, we have something great here.
So tell me, how did it happen that you sold a painting to the actual legend Mark McGwire?
Right, that was great. I did some paintings for other players, and I guess he heard about it. So when he got inducted into the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame, he came to me and he said: “Hey man, I was wondering if you could paint me a picture. I don’t care what I have to pay, this is the picture I want.”
And, you know, I was so happy, I told him he didn’t have to pay me a dime. I just wanted a signed jersey or something. So I did the picture and he gave me a signed jersey bat. It was a completely amazing experience. I also understood that I just have to paint and the opportunities would come.
What are your techniques? How did your skills progress?
Well, at first, I put out things that were less than great. I had no strategy, or theme, or anything. I was just testing the waters and that’s actually what I like about crypto: I started out at the bottom. Sure, I had a good background, but collectors want something meaningful and good.
Later on, I had a conversation with some collectors, because I wanted to know how to get to the next level. They all had one thing to say: We want a story. That’s when it finally clicked for me. I could share all my lessons and ideas through art. Since I started doing that, I have been making a lot of progress!
I give collectors passion, emotion, a unique story and they get to partake in that by collecting my work.
Did crypto collectors go for baseball-related art?
To be honest, not really. It makes sense in a way - you’re out there looking for great art, not baseball memorabilia. That was an eye-opening experience for me and it was a bit hard to flip the switch, but that’s what I had to do.
So, I’ve focused more on telling my story, but I always put a little spin on things with baseball. At the end of the day, I’m a professional baseball player and that is a part of my story. When you think about all the perseverance and mindset shifts that you need to experience to become a great athlete, that’s something that’s relatable to everyone.
In fact, it’s that attitude that I bring into everything I do: I try to be the best player, the best husband, the best father, the best artist that I can be. I’m always trying to do better.
What are your goals in the NFT space?
I’ll be honest and specific - my goal is to get on Nifty. I want to get a lot of eyes on my paintings because I want to do a series about my journey donating bone marrow. Everybody that buys an open edition, they can join the bone marrow registry and possibly sign up and save a life. Obviously, it'll be completely optional, but that’s what I’m working towards with my NFTs - raising awareness and saving lives.
And that’s exactly what you did actually - you saved a girl’s life?
Yes, in 2010, I donated bone marrow to a girl in Ukraine. It’s been a humbling and extraordinary experience to do that and essentially gift her all those years. I’ve been truly inspired by that, and that’s the feeling I want to give to people on both sides, both through my foundation and my art.
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