Orlando Boone pitcher/first baseman Ryan Mathews will give Florida head baseball coach Pat McMahon a legitimate two-way threat when he suits up for the Orange and Blue next spring. Mathews also brings an all-important winning attitude to Gainesville, as he has been a part of two national championships and five state tiles at the AAU level before he even turned 15 years old.
Mathews had actually committed to Florida during his junior year, seemingly before the Gators coaching staff had given serious consideration to his playing the dual role.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to try and do both,” Mathews said. “I was recruited by a lot of schools as a two way player, but Florida hadn’t really recruited me as a two way guy. I was mainly recruited as a first baseman, infield player. They ended up seeing me [pitch] after I had already committed [to Florida] and really liked what they saw. They were aware that other schools were recruiting me both ways though. That’s something that I was interested in doing. So, they’re giving me the opportunity to come in and be a closer.”
He earned honorable mention all-state honors this past season notching a 4-1 record pitching and hitting .406 for Boone head coach Pete Post. Mathews was also named All-Metro Conference, All-Orange County, and All-Central Florida.
“I’ll tell you that they’re getting a good one,” Post stated. “He is an outstanding player that can do it all. He is also an outstanding young man. He’s very special. I‘ll be making the trip up to Gainesville to watch him play.”
Mathews wasn’t especially pleased with the outcome of his senior campaign. While he wasn’t exactly disappointed, he wasn’t exactly joyous either.
“It was a series of ups and downs,“ Mathews said. “About halfway through the season, I was batting .600. I was just really tearing it up. But, I went through a tough stretch where I went oh for sixteen and it dropped me to .460 in the regular season. I only had nine home runs, which was disappointing. Personally, if I hadn’t had that slump, I really think that I could have finished closer to .550 with about fourteen home runs. It’s nothing I’m ashamed of, but it was not as good year as I could have had. I know what I can do and it wasn’t as good as I could have been. I had eight home runs my junior year., so I expected more.”
The 6-4, 190-pounder has played against some of the best in the game since he was just eight years old. He said that the adjustment to high school baseball was somewhat difficult, because of his age. Mathews is barely 17-years old. It was much easier playing against teammates in his own age group in AAU baseball. He’ll even get the opportunity to suit up with some of his former club ball teammates.
“I was fortunate enough to have played with Jonathan Pigott and Hampton Tignor on the (Chet Lemon) Juice team,” he recalled. “I’ve known Jonathan for awhile and played with Hampton and they’re just great guys. Actually, it was real neat experience playing on the World Wood Bat Team, because I was a sophomore at that time and here I was playing with all juniors and seniors. There was only one other sophomore on that team. Eleven members of our team ended up getting drafted that year. It was just a great experience. Playing with players of that caliber really helped me develop and helped get me ready for Division I baseball.”
Mathews chose the Gators over Florida State, Clemson, TCU, Texas A&M, and Arkansas. Despite committing to Florida last year, the spent the past few months fighting off calls from top ranked Vanderbilt, Auburn, and USC.
You need look no farther than the Florida dugout to see one of the primary reasons Mathews chose Florida over several of the nation’s top programs.
“Coach (Pat) McMahon is one of the main reasons that I’m going to the University of Florida,” he said. “When you get to Division I baseball, most of the schools will already have the facilities and equipment in place. It’s really who you are working with that makes you better. I went to a lot of schools and met the coaches, but I felt that Coach McMahon is the one that’s going to make me a better ballplayer. I’ve never seen him yell to the point where he demoralizes a player and that’s important. He’s got a way of getting his message across, but does it in a business-like manner.”
He will spend his third consecutive summer with the Juice before enrolling at Florida. The Juice will defend their World Wood Bat Association Championship. Part of that will be spent working on a new pitch.
“Right now, I only work with a fast ball and curve ball,” Mathews stated. “In high school, I was a starter, so I overpowered people a lot with those pitches. If I was locating my fastball and curve ball, there was no reason to have a third pitch. Coach (Ross) Jones wants me to develop a third pitch, most likely a change-up. The competition in college baseball is a lot better. Two pitches probably won’t be sufficient. Being a closer, I’ll just come in and throw it as hard as I can and locate my pitches and that should be effective for me.”
The Major League Baseball draft is only weeks away and Mathews has no idea where he can expect to go.
“It’s really hard to say,” he said. “The draft is so close and I’m definitely talking to a lot of teams. Education is really important to me. I love the University of Florida and I really want to be up there. Obviously, it would take a certain round and an amount for me not to go to the University of Florida. If I got that amount, then I’d probably start my major league career. It’s really hard to say what it would take though. The information I’m getting is mixed.“
“It would take a lot for me to not to go Florida,” he added. “I’m a young player. If I went to Florida, I would only be twenty years old when I became draft eligible as a junior. So, that works out well for me.”
If Mathews makes it to Gainesville, he’ll have some awfully big shoes to fill. He has already been promised the number 13, which is currently worn by Matt LaPorta. He says that he knows all about LaPorta and is willing to put in the time to try and fill the shoes.
And Gator fans have got to love that.