Joe Mather may no longer be in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform but the time spent in one of baseball’s most-respected and fundamentally sound organizations is still paying dividends.
After spending the first 10 years of his professional career with the Cardinals, Mather, a 2001 Mountain Pointe graduate of Ahwatukee, is on his third organization, the Chicago Cubs, in the last year-and-half.
“The guys who come up through that organization are definitely blessed,” Mather said. “They preach a lot of good things and produce good players, and it was an honor to come through the organization.”
Now, Mather is facing a crossroad. He is 29 and a non-roster invitee who has never played a full year in the majors. The age of 27 is often seen as the peak year for ballplayers. It has come and gone for Mather.
And so has the comfort of being a Cardinal. It took some adjusting after switching teams the first time, but it has lessened each time and he understands it is part of the game.
“After being in St. Louis year after year it was really comfortable,” said Mather, who was drafted in the third round in 2001 by the Cardinals. “It was very easy for me to go to spring training every year. It took a little time, getting to know each organization, not really knowing anyone and feeling comfortable.
“It was a great learning experience.”
He signed with the Cubs in December after spending time with the Braves and Rockies last season. The organization jumping started in November of 2010 when Atlanta claimed Mather on waivers. He saw some time in the major leagues for the third time in his career last year with the Braves, but was granted free agency in June.
Mather signed with the Rockies in July and finished the season strong at Triple-A Colorado Springs, hitting .321 with six home runs and 31 RBIs in 55 games.
The good showing to close the year brought three suitors — Houston and Pittsburgh were the others — before deciding to sign with Chicago. It helped that longtime Cardinals coach Dave McKay came over to Chicago to be the first base coach after Tony LaRussa retired in the off-season.
“I really wanted to be in Arizona for the spring and (staying in his Ahwautkee home) would be ideal,” he said. “The Cubs were a great option, the city is great, and I’ve always loved playing out there. When the Cubs came into the mix it was a great option.”
The fit has been good so far as the Cubs bring in a new era. President Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Dale Sveum are all new this year and the roster received an overhaul as well.
Mather, who bought a suite at Chase Field for the Pride after last year’s state championship, got off to a good start through Monday, hitting .545 (6 for 11) with a double, triple, home run, five RBIs and three stolen bases.
He has definitely caught Sveum’s eye.
“I never really got to see him play anywhere, but he has been impressive,” said Sveum, who was Milwaukee’s hitting coach before taking over the Cubs.
Sveum, a first-time big-league manager other than a 12-game stint as interim manager in 2008 for the Brewers, is looking to retool the club after years of disappointing seasons with a high payroll. The new regime wants players who know the game and play it fundamentally sound.
“He is definitely a baseball player where you could tell he can do a lot of things,” Sveum said. “He pays attention to the game, he runs the bases well, and he plays multiple positions well. He is just a baseball player, a winning player, and he has done things in his career to make himself a winning player.”
Mather, who is a .228 career hitter in 126 major league games, is fighting for the fifth outfield spot with the Cubs along with speedster Tony Campana, a 25-year-old who has 168 career steals since being drafted in the 13th round by the Cubs in 2008. He made his major-league debut last season, playing in 95 games for the Cubs as he hit .259 with 24 steals in 26 attempts.
It is why it has been important that Mather has shown some aptitude on the bases early in the spring.
“Joe Mather looks like he has incredible instincts on the bases,” Sveum said.
The separation might be the fact that Mather also has played first base and third base in the major leagues, while Campana is strictly an outfielder.
However, as it plays out, Mather is comfortable knowing he still has a place in the game even if he starts the year in Triple-A or yet another organization.
“The most important thing is to have a professional at-bat every time and be ready every time I am called on,” he said. “I just want to do everything I can to help us win games.”
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