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All-Decade baseball spotlight: Westminster's Matheny chose baseball over hockey

All-Decade baseball spotlight: Westminster's Matheny chose baseball over hockey

From the All-Decade baseball: position players series
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The thought still pops up in Tate Matheny’s mind from time to time.

A talented outfielder in the Boston Red Sox organization, he once was an outstanding hockey player on the club and high school levels.

And for a while, he felt like a hockey career was his calling.

So while watching the Blues charge to the Stanley Cup crown last year, he couldn’t help but run a few what-ifs through his mind.

But eventually, Matheny would smile, content he made the right decision.

“I don’t think I could be playing at that level,” he said. “But it looked like fun.”

Matheny, the son of former major league catcher and St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, is well on the way to following in his father’s footsteps.

Tate, who helped Westminster to back-to-back Class 3 state titles in 2011 and 2012, slowly has risen up the Red Sox chain and likely was headed to Triple-A Pawtucket this spring after playing a handful of games with the parent club in spring training.

His sojourn into baseball has been an eventful one, so exciting he has no regrets about missing out on a potential hockey career.

For a brief time, Tate was one of the top young skaters in the area. He led the Mid-States Club Hockey Association with a whopping 74 goals and 42 assists in his junior campaign at Westminster, including 19 hat tricks to help the Wildcats to a 21-5 season.

He also stood out on the club level for the Triple-A Jr. Blues.

“For a while, he actually chose hockey over baseball,” Mike recalled. “That was the direction he was headed.”

But Tate changed his mind after realizing the advantages baseball provided.

“Having a dad that played at the highest level, I had to take a advantage of that,” Tate said. “You can’t put a price tag on that. It was something I had to take advantage of."

Mike made it a point to explain all the options to his son.

“I didn’t try to influence him either way,” Mike said. “It came down to which sport he had the most passion for. It was a grown-up decision and we wanted to make sure he fully thought it through.”

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Westminster coach Rich Van Gilst gives a high-five to standout center field Tate Matheny after hitting a two-run home run against Orchard Farm in the 2014 campaign.

Tate’s career exploded once he put all of his efforts into baseball.

His senior season at Westminster still remains one of the most impressive campaigns in state history. He led the St. Louis-area in eight of 13 offensive categories, including batting average (.610), home runs (11), RBI (51), runs scored (60), slugging percentage (1.260) and on-base percentage (.705). He hit safely in 25 of the last 26 games and put together hitting streaks of 16 and 10 games.

Tate is the Post-Dispatch baseball player of the decade.

“They just couldn’t get him out,” Westminster coach Rich Van Gilst said. “He was unstoppable.”

Tate, the 2012 All-Metro player of the year, and a talent-rich pitching staff led by Ben Lovell (10-0), an All-Decade second-team selection, and Davis Vanderslice (8-0) helped the Wildcats to a 29-3 mark and their second successive crown.

“When I look back at it, I never realized at the time how much fun it was to be a part of that team,” Tate said. “We had trips to Florida where we all just bonded and had fun together every minute. Sometimes, you don’t always remember a game, or a moment, but you remember the fun you had playing the game with the guys that were your friends.”

Tate hit .505 as junior with a team-best 10 home runs and 54 RBI as the Wildcats won the school's first team championship.

Those back-to-back title seasons set the stage for a run of four successive championships.

And Tate helped get the ball rolling.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a kid work as hard as he did,” Van Gilst said. “From when he was a freshman to when he left, he never let down.”

Van Gilst rarely used freshmen on the varsity level, but he was forced to break that rule when Tate came onto the scene in 2009. He remembers a young player trying his best to make an impression.

“He’d dive after balls all over the place in batting practice,” Van Gilst said. “I told him, 'Save that for the game.’ He just told me that he had to keep doing it because he wanted a starting spot. I had to get him in there.”

The Wildcats compiled a 97-26 mark during Tate's tenure. He served as the leader in one of the best four-year runs in state history.

"He made everyone around him so much better," said Westminster outfielder Jacob Buffa, a teammate, friend and 2012 graduate. "He set the bar so high for himself and made it high for the rest of us, too."

Buffa started in left field, alongside Tate in center.

"Any ball hit, I'd just look at him and say, 'Go get it,' " Buffa said. "And he did."

Tate left Westminster with almost every offensive record imaginable. He went on to a successful career at Missouri State before he was picked by the Red Sox in the fourth round of the 2015 draft.

The 6-foot, 185-pounder possesses strong defensive skills and is coming off a solid offensive year at Double-A Portland, where he hit .240 with a pro career-high eight homers.

“I think I’m about where I should be right now,” Matheny said. “I'd like to be hitting better, I’m working on that."

Tate was assigned to the parent club Feb. 23 and spent three weeks in spring training, appearing in six games.

St. Louis Cardinals v Boston Red Sox

Tate Matheny of the Boston Red Sox presents the lineup card with his father, Mike Matheny of the St. Louis Cardinals, before a game on Feb. 27, 2018 in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

He said he can remember hanging around his father during Mike’s playing and managerial days with Cardinals. Conversations with players like Jim Edmonds and Matt Carpenter helped shape his career.

“I would just sit around and listen,” said Tate, the eldest of five athletic siblings. “Just let everyone else do the talking. That’s how you learn.”

For now, Tate’s career remains on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. A scratch golfer, he stays in shape by working out on a daily basis.

Tate has faced off against his father once before — in a spring training game between the Cardinals and Red Sox in Feb. 2018. But his dream is to make the big-league roster and play against his father, who was named manager of the Kansas City Royals on Oct. 31, 2019.

“That would be something," he said.

ALL-DECADE FIRST TEAM POSITION PLAYERS

ALL-DECADE SECOND TEAM POSITION PLAYERS

ALL-DECADE THIRD TEAM POSITION PLAYERS

ALL-DECADE FIRST TEAM PITCHERS

ALL-DECADE SECOND TEAM PITCHERS

ALL-DECADE THIRD TEAM PITCHERS

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