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It took an extra 13 months, but at last Kieran Mattison is ready to settle into his role as manager of the Greensboro Grasshoppers.
All in good time.
That seems to be the mantra for a lot of things in Mattison's life so far.
Call it what you like. Divine intervention. Providence. Kismet. Destiny. God's will.
Mattison's journey from teen-aged three-sport star at Westside High in Anderson, S.C., to the dugout at First National Bank Field in Greensboro has taken him around the world in search of himself and his place in the game he has grown to love.
There was a time he thought he might be through with baseball. But even then, the game called him back.
"I went to France in 2012," Mattison says, "and it had nothing to do with baseball. My brother and his family were living in Paris, and I went to spend some time with my nieces and to pursue a master's degree. I get there, and my brother says, 'Hey, man, they have a league of their own over here. I could introduce you to the Paris University Club president.'"
"It was different," Mattison says. "We practiced three or four times a week and would play doubleheaders on Sundays."It wasn't long before Mattison -- whose first name is pronounced KAI-ruhn -- was managing the club team and pitching as its bullpen closer.
He ended up playing and coaching for France's national team. And then, while he was still living in Paris and working on his degree, the Pittsburgh Pirates called in December of 2014 to offer him a coaching job on the staff at Class-AAA Indianapolis.
"You know, it's funny," Mattison says. "I went to Paris to go back to school and figure out what I wanted to do with my life. God a plan for me, and it brought me back to baseball."
Mattison arrives in Greensboro with three previous stops as a manager in the Pirates' system, short-season gigs with the Dominican Summer League Pirates, the West Virginia Black Bears and the Bristol Pirates.
Mattison's 2018 Bristol team finished 34-33, the first winning record for the franchise in 10 years and its first Appalachian League playoff appearance in 16 years.
It was an awesome experience in a lot of ways," Mattison says. "Short-season lets you get to know guys coming in with experience from different systems. You're working with guys who have been in the organization and are coming from extended spring training, and you're working with a lot of college guys who have just been drafted and are getting their first taste of pro ball. As a manager, I want to make their experience as good as possible, to give them a good foundation to understand what pro ball is like. And, also, I want to give them every chance possible to get off to a good start in their pro careers."
Mattison was all set to manage the Grasshoppers last spring ... and then the global coronavirus pandemic stopped all Minor League Baseball seasons before they started.
So instead of a summer in the dugout, it was a season of virtual coaching, a lot Zoom meetings to talk with players and fellow coaches.
And time -- precious time -- with his wife, Salia, a nurse practitioner who was pregnant with the couple's first child. Their daughter, Morgan, is 9 months old now.
"It was a blessing to be there, and spend time with them," Mattison says. "Normally, I wouldn't have got to spend that much time during the baseball season. ... The pandemic changed my outlook. I re-prioritized my life, reconnected and grew in my spiritual life."
Kieran and Salia were born nomads. His baseball life taken him, well, everywhere. He's played or coached for teams in 13 U.S. states, with side trips to Canada, Nicaragua, Taiwan, France and the Dominican Republic. Meanwhile, Salia's father was in the Coast Guard and the family moved often throughout the South.
The couple has settled in Orlando, Fla., at least for now.
"We met online at Match.com," Kieran Mattison says. "We both thought we were too cool for school, but both of us had friends who talked us in to trying it, and now here we are. God has a plan, you know?"
Teaching the game wasn't in Mattison's original plan. He wanted to play.
Mattison pitched three seasons at East Carolina, going 5-1 with a 4.21 ERA in 41 games out of the Pirates' bullpen. He was 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA in 22 games as a senior, signing as an undrafted free agent with the Kansas City Royals.
"I had a lot of ups and downs at East Carolina," Mattison says. "Frankly, I wasn't that good to start with, and I had a lot to learn about baseball. Growing up I was a three-sport athlete. Baseball came easy and natural, and I had a lot of success in high school just based on ability. ... I learned how to deal with failure at East Carolina, and I learned so much about the mental part of the game from Keith LeClair."
LeClair was just 40 years old when he died of ALS in 2006, and Mattison, who turns 41 in June, has never forgotten the lessons he learned from his college mentor.
Mattison pitched five seasons in affiliated Minor League Baseball, getting as far as Class-AAA, and he put up decent numbers. The cold, hard stats list him 19-13 with 29 saves and a 3.57 ERA in 126 games.
"I had no idea I was ever going to be a coach. All I thought about was playing," Mattison says. "The scout who signed me with the Royals, Spencer Graham, asked me, 'Have you ever thought about coaching?' At the time, I was offended. 'What, you don't think I can play?' I thought I was on my way to the big leagues. Every player thinks that. You have to. It's part of being a competitor. I didn't want to think about coaching."
Instead, Mattison played six more seasons in independent leagues and overseas.
Those experiences shaped him into the manager he has become.
He was living in Dallas when he took his first coaching job. The Grand Prairie Air Hogs hired him as a player/coach. He held a spot in their starting rotation, and he also was the team's pitching coach.
"I didn't know it at the time, but it was a really good experience," Mattison says. "Because some of the guys I was working with were kids, but some of the guys were the same age as me (28) or older. So I built relationships with guys who had different levels of experience. They were my teammates, but they also respected me as a pitching coach. ...
"I saw the impact I was making on young players, and I could start to see myself coaching. I started to think, 'Maybe this is something I would like to do some day.' It's something I enjoyed more than I thought I would."
The same was true of his time in Nicaragua and Taiwan. The lessons there were about being the outsider.
"You're the foreigner there, and you either perform or you go home," Mattison says. "I loved that about Nicaragua, and Taiwan was the same way. In Taiwan, the fans were really into it. The home team could be losing 10-0 and then hit a solo home run, and the crowd would cheer like it was a walk-off to win the World Series."
"It gave me even more of an understanding of what (Latino players) go through, because I've been the foreigner. You know?" Mattison says. "And my first managing job with the Pirates was in the Dominican Summer League. In Taiwan, the clubhouse was a jumble of different languages.
All of that has prepared me for that moment when I would manage here. My experiences help me understand my players' experiences, and I go out of my way to make sure everyone in the clubhouse feels welcome and included and part of the team. Because I want my team to act as one."
And now the latest step in Kieran Mattison's baseball journey begins here in Greensboro, with his team limited by Major League Baseball pandemic rules.
His players' bubble limits them to field level, dugout and clubhouse. No signing autographs. No charting pitches in the seats. No one allowed in the ballpark more than five hours before first pitch.
"I don't think it will interfere with the teaching aspect too much," Mattison says. "The main thing is to make sure we stay within the protocols set down by Major League Baseball, follow the rules so we can stay safe and stay on the field. Baseball is a game about making adjustments, and these guidelines are just another adjustment."
Mattison wants to see his players commit to one another. He expects fundamentally sound baseball. He wants his guys to have fun and learn as they go.
"Ideally, I want the guys to manage the clubhouse themselves," Mattison says. "I want to create a standard, and then let them hold each other accountable, behave like grown men and go about things the right way. That's part of the experience. And if I need to have conversations with certain guys from time to time, well, then we'll have those conversations. But I want the guys to create an environment where they can be themselves."
It's an approach that's worked for Mattison. All in good time.
In his career at the News & Record, journalist Jeff Mills won 10 national and 12 state writing awards from the Associated Press Sports Editors, the Society for Features Journalism, and the N.C. Press Association.