SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It's been a pretty good couple of days for Marlins outfielder Kevin Mattison.
On Friday, the 26-year-old found out he had earned a spot on Miami's 40-man roster. The next day, prior to hitting leadoff for the Surprise Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League championship game, he was presented with the Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award.
"It's a great honor," Mattison said. "I couldn't be more proud. My family couldn't be more proud. It's just the way I was brought up; my parents pushing me and guiding me in the right direction, making good choices in life. I couldn't thank them enough for raising me in the way they did. I just came out and played hard every day and it paid off."
Created in memory of the late Cincinnati Reds outfield prospect, who was killed during the 2003 Arizona Fall League season, the award has been given annually since '04 to the player who best exemplifies unselfishness, hard work and leadership. Six finalists -- one from each AFL team -- are nominated each year for those qualities that Stenson brought to the ballpark every day -- rather than their statistics or on-field performances. They all are, without exception, the types who have a hard-nosed attitude, players who do their jobs without complaint, who play the game the way it was meant to be played.
This year's other five nominees were: Nolan Arenado, Rockies (Salt River); Dan Butler, Red Sox (Scottsdale), Brodie Greene, Reds (Phoenix), Chris Hermann, Twins (Mesa) and Zelous Wheeler, Brewers (Peoria).
As Surprise's leadoff hitter, it was clear Mattison's style and energy rubbed off on the rest of the Saguaros roster. The team entered the championship game needing a win to break the AFL record for winning percentage, playing hard-nosed and loose from start to finish. Mattison isn't one to toot his own horn, but he understood that perhaps some of it was his infectious style.
"I'll take a little credit," Mattison said reluctantly. "But no one on our team is selfish. I think that's why we're here in the championship game. We continued to pick each other up. We just go out and play together as a team."
Wil Myers certainly appreciated what Mattison could do, both in terms of his play and his approach. Mattison homered in a game at the beginning of the week and nearly took the Royals prospect's hand off with an emphatic high five in the on-deck circle.
"Exciting times," Mattison joked. "I just come out and play hard and give it my all each and every day, whether my body is hurting or not. Everybody's grinding this out. I think that's why we're good."
"He hit my hand hard, man, when he came by," Myers said. "He's a [heck of a] player. He can run, he can hit home runs. He's got it all. He's going to be a good player down the road."
The Marlins clearly thought so when they added him to the 40-man roster on Friday. Mattison hit .349 with a .433 on-base percentage and .624 slugging percentage, with six homers, 23 RBIs and nine steals this fall. That was icing on the cake following a season where he hit .260/.353/.406 with 38 steals at Double-A.
"This year was a big year for me," Mattison said. "During the regular season and now, I just went out there and played hard every day and tried not to put too much pressure on myself. Good ABs and good defense give our team a chance to win. It came into play and it helped the team out. You help the team out, you help yourself out."
In many ways, Mattison has already exceeded expectations. Senior signs taken in the 28th round of the Draft aren't supposed to earn roster spots.
"Another guy in the organization, Tom Koehler, he got put on," Mattison said. "We were both senior signs in 2008. We both just worked hard. We had to work hard to get where we are. We don't take anything for granted."
There is truly only one explanation for Mattison's success. It's not his work ethic or his natural tools. There is little doubt from anyone who's been around him that the source of his powers come straight from his facial hair.
"I think so. And the beard, the playoff beard," joked Mattison, who has sported everything from a Rollie Fingers-esque handlebar mustache to a fu manchu over the years. "I started that in short-season. We were only allowed to grow a mustache, and it looked terrible. I just decided I'd rock it about once a year. Every year it seems to get longer and longer. I just have fun with it, and the fans seem to enjoy it."