FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It was an out-of-body experience for a Minor League catcher, as surreal as it gets for a youngster who also thought it might be as close as he would ever get to the big leagues.Before Wednesday's game against the Twins, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny recalled the
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It was an out-of-body experience for a Minor League catcher, as surreal as it gets for a youngster who also thought it might be as close as he would ever get to the big leagues.
Before Wednesday's game against the Twins, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny recalled the time he met Hall of Famers Bob Feller and Paul Molitor, the current Twins manager.
Matheny, an eighth-round Draft pick by the Brewers in 1991, was in his first Spring Training, catching in the bullpen for Major Leaguers. Manager Phil Garner brought Matheny along for a road game against the Indians.
Matheny somehow found himself talking to Feller during batting practice. There are likely an infinite number of questions a young catching prospect would love to have asked a Hall of Fame pitcher. So, naturally, they talked about…tractors?
"He found out I was from Ohio and had family in the farming industry," Matheny said. "The whole time, I'm just [thinking], I'm hearing what he's saying, but Bob Feller is talking to me right now."
Late in the game, the bullpen got the call from Garner. Matheny would pinch-hit for the future Hall of Famer Molitor. If only…
"[Garner] said there's a young catcher he's going to come in and hit for Molitor unless [Darryl] Hamilton gets into scoring position," Matheny said. "And ... Hamilton hits this ugly little bloop, ends up on second base. I'm standing out on deck and Molitor comes out and he goes, 'Take that goofy-looking helmet off.' And he gave me a real [helmet, Molitor's]. So I'm standing on deck, but Molitor comes out, takes his helmet [back] and goes up and gets a base hit."
After the game, in the dugout, thinking that might be as close as he ever got to the Majors, Matheny thought about taking a memento of the day.
"I kept eyeballing, because we had the scorecard up there, and I'm going, 'You know what? That may be my only day. But I talked to Bob Feller. I was wearing Paul Molitor's helmet.' And I'm eyeballing the scorecard because they scratched out 'Molitor' and wrote my name. But I don't want anybody to see me."
But just as he was about to grab the scorecard, a coach walked by and…
"Laid a big old tobacco stain right on it," Matheny said. "So, I couldn't even take it."
Matheny didn't get the at-bat. He left the spit-stained scorecard in the dugout.
But, what a memory -- to go along with his 13 big league seasons.
Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com.