Paintball beating ensured Matheny's reputation as a tough guy
JUN 12, 2013 12:57p ET
And Matheny sure is tough. Not many of us could absorb a paintball barrage that left us bloody and bruised and be back at work the next day.
Matheny did just that during spring training in one of his two seasons (2005-06) as Giants catcher. Near the end of a team-bonding paintball outing, he absorbed a pummeling that teammates still haven't forgotten.
As Matheny recalls, enough paintball pellets remained for one final round, which would not be over until only one man was left standing in a battle that pitted pitchers and catchers against position players.
"They lined us up and we took off running right at the opposing team," Matheny says. "All of a sudden, my hopper comes open and all my paintballs fell out. I'm reaching for the ground, trying to put balls back in my gun. I end up getting reloaded and I took another guy's gun."
At this point, think Arnold Schwarzenegger making a last stand in Terminator, gun in each hand, ready to take on the world.
"I'm just getting drilled," Matheny says. "But I'm thinking I can't surrender here. At the end, I was still standing. I hadn't quit."
"There was blood involved," then-teammate Steve Finley says.
Matheny had gone to the outing even though his wife, Kristin, was visiting from St. Louis. "It was a great opportunity for me to say, 'Guys, I'm going to dinner with my wife,' " Matheny says. "But I told her I really have to do this."
He had to be there for his pitchers. So instead of dinner, Kristin ended up spending the evening counting the marks left on her husband from a paintball pummeling.
"My wife counted 180-some different times where I got hit with a paintball," Matheny says. "I didn't think you could get a fever from welts, but I had one."
His stand left his new teammates impressed. "It's amazing what an impact it had," Matheny says. "I had guys talk about that forever. I didn't think it was that big a deal. Everybody got shot, just some of us more than others."
When I called Finley to ask what he remembered about the outing, I said I wanted to test his memory for a story I was reporting on Matheny.
His first words: "Does this have anything to do with paintball?"
How would you know that?
"When you said test my memory and Matheny, that's what I thought of," Finley says. "That is one of the memories I have etched in my mind about Mike Matheny."
While David Freese was impressed to hear about Matheny's ability to take a paintball beating, he cited another example of his manager's toughness. When Matheny was playing for the Brewers in 1998, he got hit by a pitch in the face.
"Ninety-some miles per hour, flush in the jaw, and he didn't even go down," Freese says. "He was spitting out blood and he just walked to the dugout. That ended up being the game-winning run."
Matheny ended up back in the lineup the next day.
Such toughness has gone a long way in Matheny earning respect from his players. When your boss is tough, you're more likely to man up, too.
"It trickles down, for sure," Freese says. "As extremely tough as Mike is physically, mentally he overpowers his physical toughness. You just feel it when you're around him. You understand quickly how tough Mike is, the way he handles the good and the bad."
In the macho world of the major leagues, the respect a manager gains from his players goes a long way in determining his success.
"Leadership and toughness are intertwined," Freese says. "We see both in Mike every day."
They don't need to engage him in a paintball game, either.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at email@example.com.