Forgive Gary (Little Sarge) Matthews Jr. if he is a little on edge this weekend. He’s prone to get that way when he’s in a ballpark with his father, Phillies Phillies broadcaster and 16-year major league veteran Gary (Sarge) Matthews Sr.
The duo rarely has crossed paths in-season, but now will do so regularly with Matthews Jr. arriving in the National League East. They last had an opportunity to be in the same ballpark when the Los Angeles Angels and Phillies met in interleague play June 20-22, 2008. Matthews Jr. went 1-for-6 with an RBI, two runs scored and a walk in that series, which the Angels swept.
“It’s pretty special, when you think about it,” Matthews Jr. said. “The truth is he’s rarely seen me play live because he’s still involved in the game and our schedules never coincide. So I always find myself battling nerves a little bit when I know my father is in the house. You’d think I’d be used to it. I think maybe this time it’ll be different. I’m hoping it will be different. I usually fight nerves a little bit. I think it’s probably natural. My father taught me this game. For me, my father is like the standard. I think anyone, no matter what you do, you want to do well when your father is there. You want to do something special.”
The Mets outfielder said he will stay at the team hotel in order to focus.
“And my dad is great about that,” he said. “He knows I’ve always been the kid who wanted to concentrate and be left alone before the games. That being said, we’ll do dinner and we’ll do lunch. My dad likes to keep me kind of loose, because I can be serious sometimes. My dad is definitely loose -- looser than me.”
Sarge had a career .281 average while hitting 234 homers and producing 978 RBIs from 1972-87. Matthews Jr.’s favorite baseball experiences involving his father?
“Gosh, there are so many,” he said. “One, for sure, is watching him play in the playoffs. I saw him play in the World Series (in 1983), but I had to watch it on TV because I was in school. And then my parents finally let me skip school because it was toward the end of my father’s career -- it was ’84 and I was getting older. They let me skip school to go to the playoffs in San Diego and watch him play in the postseason live. That is an experience I’ll never forget. And the second one has to be playing in the All-Star Game in ’06 and having my father at the game sitting in the stands with my son. I watched my father play in the All-Star Game in ’79. So to have an experience where the roles are reversed -- my father is now watching me play in the All-Star Game -- is pretty special.”
Matthews Jr., who was acquired from the Angels for reliever Brian Stokes, along with $21.5 million of the $23.5 million owed to the outfielder through 2011, enters the weekend hitting .167 and without an RBI in 30 at-bats. Manager Jerry Manuel alternated between Angel Pagan and him in center field early on, but Pagan has taken off and is getting the large percentage of the playing time. Matthews Jr. was upset last year seeing only 316 at-bats with the Angels, and conceivably it will be less playing time this season.
“I’m going to try to be patient and hope that it’ll work out a little bit different -- give it some time and try to stay ready,” Matthews Jr. said. “I worked hard this offseason. I thought I had a great spring. I wanted to prove that I’m able to play every day. Now I’m just waiting for the opportunity.
“For me, I’ve learned, you can’t put pressure on yourself like, ‘Oh, I’m starting today, so it’s got to happen today.’ That’s not baseball and that’s not realistic. When you’re playing once a week, it’s unrealistic to expect you’re going to go out and hit three home runs and score three runs and drive in five runs. That’s not how baseball works.
“Right now we’re talking 25 games into a season, so it’s hard to say what it’s going to be. It really is. So we’ll find out.”