Catching isn’t for the faint of heart. Every foul tip or smothered ball in the dirt takes a toll, and they tend to sting a lot longer in the early-season cold of February.
The prospects of catching 10 games over a span of 14 days doesn’t sound particularly enticing to the normal individual, but new LSU catcher Brock Mathis is pretty fired up for the opportunity.
LSU is counting on Mathis to be an iron man behind the plate until fellow newcomer Saul Garza can take on a share of the duties. Garza, coming off knee surgery, isn’t scheduled to get into a catcher’s crouch at all until March 6.
LSU targets the Georgia series (March 22-24) for him to be fully available, but he’ll be relegated to being the designated hitter until then. That leaves about a month and a half of season where Mathis will be doing the lion’s share of the catching with only walk-on Braden Doughty to back him up.
“I think Mathis is an outstanding player,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “He’s just got that mentality of being a warrior back there. He’s a work horse. The thought of catching 10 games in 14 days, he’s excited about it. I’m very, very confident in Mathis back there. We just need him to stay healthy.”
As Mainieri noted, LSU plays 10 times in a span of 14 days to open the season. The Tigers are scheduled to play 22 times before Garza is expected to catch in an actual game — it could take longer than that, obviously — and Mathis will be counted on to start most, if not all, of those contests.
Mathis understands the importance of taking care of his body during such a grueling stretch. He caught 15 games in a row for Northwest Florida State during his one junior college season, so this isn’t wholly uncharted waters for the sophomore.
“The biggest thing for me is staying healthy,” Mathis said. “That’s key numero one, just taking care of myself after practice and things like that.
His post-practice regiment sounds more like something a 300-pound offensive lineman would do following a few hours of mashing in the trenches.
After each practice or scrimmage, Mathis will alternate between the hot tub and the cold bath for about 10 minutes at a time. That apparently helps take the soreness out of his lower body.
“Just keeping my legs fresh so everything feels ready to go the next day,” Mathis said. “Maybe not 100 percent, but close to it.”
Close to 100 percent is more than enough for Mathis to do his thing.
Teammates say he takes foul tips off his extremities with a smile on his face. They have no doubt he can play the iron man with a rub-some-dirt-on-it attitude behind the plate.
“He’s a grinder,” said closer Todd Peterson. “He’s a guy that’s back there and these last couple days he’s been getting beat up. Taking balls off the wrist left and right. It’s funny the way he shakes it off and just gets back out there. He’s tough. He’s a competitor. He’s going to be a huge asset for this team.”
“As a catcher you’ve got to be tough,” Mathis smiled. “You can’t let the little things bother you. You’ve got to show these guys the positive energy from me. The pitchers feed off that. If a ball hits me, I’m fine. I’m ready to go next play.”
LSU certainly hopes that will remain the case. As tough as Mathis may be, the Tigers are about one ill-placed foul tip away from having a real problem at one of the game’s most important positions.