Jeff Mathis: Molinas helped me
Catcher gives credit to brothers for supporting his development
My earliest catching memories take me back to Little League. I had always played infield -- either as a shortstop or as a pitcher -- but I always wanted to be behind the plate because you got to touch the ball every time. That really was appealing to me. I had to convince my coaches to do it, though, because they liked me at other positions.
It is hard to say whether the position came naturally to me. It was something that I enjoyed. It was also something that was new for me. I didn't catch again until my senior year in high school. I was mostly an infielder.
Back then I never envisioned a full-time job as a catcher in pro baseball. Yes, it was a goal and it was a dream, but that was all it was back then. Back then you didn't know what your future held. I played football and baseball in high school, and I loved football just as much as I loved baseball. That had me confused for a while, but baseball ended up being the right choice for me. I am thankful for that every day.
Coming up through the Minors, there is a difference in the catcher's role compared to other positions. It is very different, especially in the Angels organization. You are asked to do so much, and you are expected to do so much. For catchers in this organization, defense is preached from Day 1. It is big here, but I also think it is big with some other teams, too. It is a grind.
I was a first-round pick and that might come with some added pressure, but I would tell myself not to put any additional pressure on myself. You know people are looking at you. You're seeing yourself in Baseball America. That is stuff I never really paid attention to, however. It is good for outside folks to read and, while it is nice to be in those publications, it is still all about this game and how I enjoy baseball. That is how I looked at it.
As a youngster breaking in, I was behind Bengie and Jose Molina. Having caught just one year in high school, I was coming in young and fresh, and I was just learning the basics of being back behind the plate. In my first big league camp in 2003, both of them were there and they did nothing but help me. I am so appreciative of those guys and what they did for me. They helped me out, and their voices will always be in my head.
In all, the catching community is a real tight-knit group. That is because we do so much together from Spring Training on. Over the years, we are always doing things in the field where we are together. Hitting seems to be secondary in the spring. We are getting to know the pitchers. We are always together and that helps to make us such a close group.
With the Angels, I play with fellow catchers Hank Conger and Bobby Wilson. Everybody brings something to the game. Everybody does something different, things you yourself can watch and see and you can learn from. Just like with Mike Napoli when he was here, and when Bengie and Jose were here. We feed off each other, and we bounce things off one another. I feel like that will always be like that here because we have such quality at this position.
One thing about this position that we all take pride in is our pitcher's ERA while we are behind the plate. I absolutely take a lot of pride in that statistic. That is our No. 1 job, handling those guys and keeping runs off the board. It is a big deal for us, too, to keep zeroes on the board while our guys are out on the bump.
Jeff Mathis is in his seventh year behind the plate for the Angels and his 11th season overall with the organization. Mathis' career in baseball almost didn't happen. The Florida native came close to accepting a scholarship offer from Florida State University as a quarterback after leading his high school football team to four district titles, a regional title and the state championship game.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.