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Trading in Blue for Gold: Mike Matheny's path to and from Michigan

By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Writer
Published June 5, 2011

Teams hold the rights to players until they attend their first class, so Gillick instructed Matheny to call him the morning classes began to hear the team’s final offer.

“I’m driving up (to Ann Arbor) and I’m trying not to act distracted, but a lot of us have had dreams of playing professional baseball and mine was sitting right in front of me,” Matheny says. “I’m sitting up in my dorm room in West Quad and my phone keeps ringing and they keep upping the ante and I’m thinking, ‘I’m really not that good.’ ”

Finally, the morning of Matheny’s first class arrived and so had his final decision. He put his backpack on and just before leaving his dorm room, he called the Blue Jays to inform them that he was staying at Michigan.

“I’m walking out the door and I’m thinking, ‘What am I doing walking away from my dream?’ ” Matheny recalls. “I’m not sure that I’m making the right decision, so I’ve been praying a lot, but didn’t know what exactly I was looking for in return.”

It didn’t take long to get a message from above — albeit not one he was looking for.

After taking just one step out of West Quad, a pigeon’s poop landed squarely on Matheny’s head.

“(The pigeon was) apparently the size of a turkey,” he says, laughing. “I’m completely covered, where people are walking by and laughing at me. I’m not talking a little bit, I’m talking Nickelodeon stuff. So I was thinking, ‘God, I’ve asked you to be clear before, but c’mon.’ “

Matheny had to return to his room to shower and change, providing him the opportunity to change his mind about staying in college. But something about the incident reaffirmed his decision.

And for further reassurance — because he walked into his class 20 minutes late — he met what he describes as a “hot blonde” named Kristin, who was on the field hockey team.

Mike and Kristin Matheny have now been married for 18 years and have five children.

Michigan man

Matheny played three seasons at Michigan and following his junior season — which he spent as the team’s captain — Matheny was drafted in the eighth round of the 1991 Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers.

But despite forgoing his senior year, he remained true to the principles that brought him to Michigan in the first place. He spent his first two off-seasons as a minor leaguer back in Ann Arbor to earn his degree — the first person in his family to attain a degree from a major university.

“I didn’t want to throw all that away, and I knew as I got older it’d be harder to come back,” Matheny says. “Just walking away, it’s having that degree and it’s having that education and the time to grow as a person.”

Matheny made his Major League debut in 1994 with the Brewers and played five seasons there. He spent a year with the Blue Jays in 1999, before signing with St. Louis, where he played five seasons.

Matheny won Gold Glove awards with the Cardinals in 2000, 2003 and 2004 and with the San Francisco Giants in 2005. In 2004, he played an integral role in the Cardinals’ run to the World Series. He spent his final two seasons with the Giants and was finally forced to retire in 2007 after incurring a series of concussions.

"On the field (Matheny) taught me how to be a professional,” pitcher Matt Morris, a teammate of Matheny for six seasons, told ESPN at the time. “Off the field, he taught me to be a man and a respectful person.”

Matheny finished with a .231 career batting average, but an astounding .994 fielding percentage. He holds the major league catching records for consecutive games (252) and chances (1,565) without committing an error.

These days, he’s back with St. Louis as its roving catching instructor. Throughout the season, he travels to the Cardinals and their minor league teams, while also acting as an advisor to the St. Louis front office staff.

Matheny returned to Michigan as the keynote speaker of the Wolverines’ recent senior banquet and told the crowd that he never shies away from showing his Michigan pride.

“Of the things that I’ve been able to accomplish in my life — and some of them were bigger than I ever thought I would — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a conversation and stuck my chest out a little bit when somebody asked me where I went to school,” Matheny says.

“When I see their reaction, I know that I was right in the decision that I made.