The Journey for TinCaps Hitting Coach Jonathan Mathews
It was a warm summer Tuesday evening in the middle of July, 2008. A man stood with his son, who was only five years old, in the outfield of the old Yankee Stadium. Tears slowly streamed down the man's face. They had just finished taking a tour of Monument Park.
It was a warm summer Tuesday evening in the middle of July, 2008. A man stood with his son, who was only five years old, in the outfield of the old Yankee Stadium. Tears slowly streamed down the man's face. They had just finished taking a tour of Monument Park. But now, they just stood, side-by-side, watching batting practice before the MLB All-Star Game.
Although they were fans, they weren't just watching the players on the field. Instead, they were watching the man throwing batting practice on a ramp at the bottom of the pitcher's mound.
"Why are you crying, daddy," the boy asked.
The 61-year-old man on the ramp wore a gray jersey and gray pants with black pinstripes stitched top to bottom. The jersey read, "Colorado" across the chest. A Colorado Rockies patch adorned the left sleeve, the logo with a baseball shooting over a purple mountain. He wore a black cap with a purple bill, and his white-ish gray hair peaked out of the back.
"Someday, you'll realize," the man responded.
The man in the outfield that day is now TinCaps Hitting Coach Jonathan Mathews. At the time, Jonathan was coaching at Indian Hills Community College. Just like when he was growing up, on that day, he was following his father, Rick, wherever he happened to be coaching at the time.
Rick Mathews was throwing BP as the bullpen coach in the 2008 All-Star Game after the Rockies had made the World Series the previous year.
"To be able to say you coached in an All-Star game being from the little town that I came from and my background, it's unique," Rick said. "It might be made for a movie."
The movie may have to wait, but here is their story.
Jonathan's son, Merrick, was only five years old at the old Yankee Stadium that day. He will realize, someday.
His grandfather and father's journey is bigger than just that moment. It's the accumulation of all the years Jonathan has watched and idolized his father, while following in his path.
For Rick and Jonathan Mathews, the journey starts in Centerville, Iowa, a town of 5,528 people. It's about 90 miles southwest of Des Moines and 15 miles north of the Iowa-Missouri border. In the early 1900s, Centerville was known for coal mining and railroads.
"It's home to us," Rick said.
After growing up in Centerville, Rick attended and played baseball at Indian Hills Community College, a two-year university, located in Centerville.
After two years, Rick continued his baseball career at Drake University in Des Moines, just an hour and 45 minutes from home. He was scouted by MLB teams during his junior and senior season but was never drafted.
One of those scouts was Herk Robinson, who later became the scouting director for the Kansas City Royals. In 1971, Robinson offered Rick a position as a part-time associate scout with the Royals.
"I always tell people that I'm a freak to the game of professional baseball with the fact that I didn't play," Rick said.
One year later, in March of 1972, Rick and his wife, Mary, gave birth to their first and only son, Jonathan.
In 1981, Rick was offered a full-time position as a minor league manager in the Royals system. Jonathan was nine at the time.
"My mother was a school teacher, so when school would get out, my mom, sister, and I would head to Memphis, or Fort Myers, or Charleston, or wherever dad happened to be managing or coaching at the time," Jonathan said. "I grew up in the clubhouse and on the bus. It was an awesome way to grow up."
For Jonathan, baseball was never forced on him, but he chose to play. In 1987, Jonathan was playing at Centerville High School when Rick decided to come back home to coach at Indian Hills Community College.
Like his father, after high school, Jonathan attended and played baseball at Indian Hills Community College. Unlike Rick, Jonathan played for his father.
"He didn't play any favorites," Jonathan chuckled. "We would be at practice all day, and then we would have to go home and eat dinner at the same table. There wasn't a whole lot of time away from each other for those couple of years, but I wouldn't have traded it for anything."
After two seasons at Indian Hills, Jonathan went on to play at New Orleans University, while Rick accepted a position with the Colorado Rockies in 1992.
"That was before we had a big-league team," Rick said. "We had a team in Bend, Oregon, and we had a half team in Mesa, Arizona, with the Cubs."
In 1992, a year before the Rockies started their inaugural season, Rick served as the pitching coach for the Rockies' half team in Mesa, Arizona.
Meanwhile, Jonathan blossomed in New Orleans. In 1994, he was drafted in the 42nd round of the MLB Draft by -- yep, you guessed it -- the Colorado Rockies.
Jonathan played first base at three different levels during the 1994 season with the Rockies.
"They gave me an opportunity to play, and I went out and tried to make the most of it," Jonathan said. "I feel like I did that for the most part."
After a season in the Rockies organization, Jonathan was offered a position as an "intern coach" with the Minnesota Twins.
"They said, 'We'll give you $500 a month, and we'll put you up in a hotel, and you're going to go throw batting practice and hit fungos in the GCL Rookie League,'" Jonathan said.
The following year, the Twins hired Jonathan on full-time as a hitting coach in the minor leagues. In 1997, Jonathan served as the hitting coach for the Fort Myers Miracle, the Advanced-A affiliate of the Twins.
"It was a really neat time to be in that system," Jonathan said. "Our first baseman was a guy by the name of David Ortiz. Our catcher was a guy by the name of A.J. Pierzynski. A kid named Jacque Jones played center."
After his time with the Twins, Jonathan decided to go home. He wanted to start a family.
Jonathan moved back to Centerville where he taught economics and coached, like his father, at Indian Hills. In 2002, he became a father to twins, Merrick and Claire.
While Jonathan started a family, Rick worked as the bullpen coach for the Rockies under Clint Hurdle from 2003-2008. The Rockies made it to the World Series in 2007, and in 2008, Rick got a chance to coach in the MLB All-Star Game.
"That was like a dream come true," Rick said. "As a youngster, that's all I ever wanted to do was play in the big leagues. I didn't have enough talent to do that, so I had to take another avenue, I guess."
After six seasons as the bullpen coach, Rick transitioned into a new role as a scout for the Rockies, the role he remains in today.
Rick is one of very few people to have been with the Rockies since their inaugural season in 1993. He is the only person that remains in the player development department. Yet, he still lives in Centerville.
"With my job, I can live anywhere I want to live, but we choose to live in Centerville," Rick said. "It is a special place to us, it really is."
Jonathan got back into coaching professional baseball in 2013. He began with the Baltimore Orioles, then the Diamondbacks from 2014-2016, before accepting a position with the Padres.
Jonathan was hired as a coach for the Padres' big league club in 2017. He worked primarily with outfielders and helped with the Padres' hitters.
"It was a dream come true," Jonathan said. "I tried to make the most of every minute."
In 2018, after a season with the big league club, Jonathan was assigned to Fort Wayne as the hitting coach.
"I really enjoy Fort Wayne. It's as close as I can get to home as far as working with the Padres," Jonathan said. "If I'm going to be in the minor leagues, which I certainly don't mind, this is where I prefer to be."
Jonathan, like his father, Rick, still lives in Centerville, and he makes it home as often as possible.
"We've been around everywhere and traveled, and we continue to land back in a town of 5,000 people in Southern Iowa," Jonathan said. "That's what I look forward to in the offseason. I go home, and I try not to leave much."
This season, Jonathan has returned home to see family during off days and the All-Star break. He was able to see his son, Merrick, now 15, play baseball as well as his daughter, Claire, who plays softball. Merrick and Claire will be sophomores at Centerville High School in the fall.
The next generation of Mathews is on the way, and the journey starts in Centerville.