At two months shy of his 25th birthday, Travis Mattair is likely one of the oldest players in the Arizona Fall League. On Saturday, the Reds' first-base prospect took the young Scottsdale pitchers to school, going 3-for-4 with a pair of runs and an RBI in Glendale's 5-2 win at Camelback Ranch.
"Thanks for reminding me about my age," Mattair said good-naturedly after including a homer and two singles in his big day. "It's fun to be a veteran here. I've learned so much, and hopefully I can teach the younger players something."
There is a very good reason for Mattair's presence in the AFL six years after having been the Phillies' second-round pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft -- and the most valuable lesson he can impart is the value of pursuing one's dreams.
You see, three years in, Mattair pulled the plug on his baseball career. For the 6-foot-5 Washington native, basketball had always been his first love, and after the 2009 season he decided to court it. He plied his network well enough to arrange a walk-on shot at making the Boise State basketball team when ... the siren song of baseball called to him.
"It set me back in baseball a touch, but it put me ahead in life," Mattair said of missing the 2010 season. "I'd always had that 'what if' feeling, and would've had it all my life if it weren't for giving it a shot. Baseball had been my second love to basketball. I don't think I'd now be in this position if hadn't gone and tried [basketball]. It rekindled my love for baseball; I'm really happy with everything that has gone on. I wouldn't change anything."
He did change organizations following the 2011 season, joining the Reds as a Rule 5 draftee. Now, being in the AFL has him a big step closer to his first Triple-A shot, which would be one step shy of the ultimate goal.
"You don't get competition like this anywhere in life or in sports," Mattair said. "It's the ultimate grind, but to be on the field with so many talented people ... 70 percent of the players here will make the big leagues next year. Maybe I can be one of them.
"At the start, it was a grind," added Mattair, who went 2-for-4 in his first game with Glendale then endured a 2-for-23 slide. "I wasn't performing like I wanted to. But I've put in a lot of work with our batting coach [Johnny Washington], who gave me a chance to look at different philosophies. I've been doing some different drills, and they're paying off."
Saturday's payoff was the leadoff homer in the second that gave Glendale a 2-0 lead, a fourth-inning single to help set up Brian Cavazos-Galvez's sacrifice fly and another single in the sixth ahead of Chris O'Brien's two-run double.
"Hopefully, it'll continue," Mattair said. "All I can do is be prepared and if I am, everything will take care of itself. I hope to advance, and would love to be in Triple-A and knocking on the big-league door. Whatever plans the Reds have, I know it's a good one."
Glendale grabbed a quick lead on Marlins prospect Colin Moran's RBI double in the first off Scottsdale starter Aaron Northcraft.