Why a rehabbing utility man watched every Brewers game in 2021

March 4th, 2022

PHOENIX -- Some rehabbers can’t watch. They come and go in the summer heat, do their work in the athletic training room and retreat home, where it’s often too painful to turn on a ballgame and think about where they might fit on the roster.

would have fit for the Brewers in 2021. He plays everywhere, for starters, and he showed during a stint in the big leagues in '20 that he can put together a productive at-bat. The Brewers distributed just shy of 500 plate appearances in ’21 to utility-types Jace Peterson, Daniel Robertson, Pablo Reyes and Tim Lopes. But Mathias wasn’t part of that mix because he sustained a season-ending injury to his throwing shoulder during Spring Training.

So, he watched from afar.

“It took my heart to watch every single game,” the 27-year-old said. “My girl was like, ‘OK, you’re being hard on yourself by watching every game.’ But I wanted to watch every game because I didn’t want to feel like I was having the whole year off [and it] was going to make me take 10 steps back. Watching helped me stay close.

“I felt like I was almost watching myself there sometimes. I could visualize myself in their position. I put the speakers on loud, to the point where I could hear the stadium. My girl worried that was going to be tough on me mentally, but it helped me. And it was a hell of a year that they had.”

Before the Brewers began their division-winning 2020 campaign, Mathias injured his right shoulder during the second week of March. The prognosis was troubling because he’d already had one surgery for a torn labrum and now he could need another. Collectively, Mathias and Milwaukee’s medical staff decided to try a non-surgical rehab, beginning with seven weeks of rest.

“After three and a half weeks of rehab,” Mathias said, “it just wasn’t getting better.”

He underwent surgery on May 5 and began a tough recovery. It started with five weeks in a sling. For the first three months, he was allowed almost no physical activity.

So, Mathias kept his mind active. Buying a home in the red-hot Austin, Texas, market piqued his interest in a real estate career when he’s done playing baseball, so Mathias decided to get a jump on that education by watching classes on YouTube and taking mock exams.

He’d study during the day and watch the Brewers each night.

Now, he's back in uniform. Mathias was cleared from rehab protocol around Thanksgiving and, after some time off at home in Austin, he returned to American Family Fields of Phoenix in the first week of January to get an early start on this season. (Since he was removed from the 40-man roster last year, Mathias is not subject to rules preventing Major Leaguers from using team facilities.) He’s one of the most seasoned players in a camp that opened last week for mostly young prospects.

So far, Mathias has had no setbacks in his throwing.

“It’s a miracle, man,” Mathias said. “I was thinking I wasn’t going to be able to recover from this one fully. This is my second surgery on the throwing shoulder, and most of the time when guys have that, it’s career ending. I’ve seen guys where it just doesn’t look right. I’m able to throw and it looks right, and I’m thankful.”

He said he is especially thankful for Brewers director of player health Blair Bundy, Minor League physical therapist Ryan Adkins and the rest of the club’s Phoenix-based medical staff for helping him get back to health. And whatever happens on the baseball field, there is good reason to think this summer will be better than last: Mark and Gisela are expecting a baby in August.

“I came out here really trying to get my feet under me again,” Mathias said. “It's been a long run, it's been a long ride, but I feel like I'm ready to play.”