This edition of Sports Spectrum “Conversations” features Ryan Mathews, an outfielder in the Oakland Athletics organization. This past spring, Mathews hit 17 HRs and helped his teammates at NC State advance to the Super-Regionals of the NCAA baseball tournament. Ryan joins us to talk about his faith, his NCAA tournament experience, getting drafted, and what life is like in the minor leagues. To hear the full interview, including Ryan’s thoughts on the A’s playoff run, if he’s ever faced a pitcher who throws as hard as Justin Verlander, and how he shares the Gospel though Twitter, click the link to the podcast or subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: You played baseball at NC State. Talk about your experience there.
Ryan Mathews: You know, I actually got the opportunity to transfer to NC State after already going through a couple of colleges before that, and it just ended up being the right fit after I had already transferred a couple of times. I was really able to see how Raleigh, North Carolina and NC State was where God wanted me to be. I just really experienced a lot of change in my life as a player and as a person through coming to NC State.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: You guys made it to the super regionals. Is baseball fun when the pressure is on in playoff scenarios, or does it get more nerve-wracking?
Ryan Mathews: To me, and it’s probably different for every guy, but to me, I mean, I just really enjoy it. The more fans, the more pressure that’s there, to me personally, I get a lot of enjoyment out of that. When all of the pressure is on the line and you’re playing for something that matters, playing in the regionals, the super regionals, where if you lose you’re out, that’s where I get the most fun out of playing the game.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: What was that moment like when you beat Vanderbilt to advance to the super regionals?
Ryan Mathews: That was unreal. I can’t even put it into words to describe that whole scenario. I think the coolest thing about that whole game and scenario about being able to come back and beat Vanderbilt was after the fact that we did it, in the locker room, I heard probably from anywhere from at least 8-10 guys say, “God did that. God answered my prayers.” I was hearing guys that I didn’t even know they prayed or believed in God say, “God answered our prayers,” or “God won that game.” It was just a comeback that I think everybody knew you know that there was a higher power involved, at least on our side. I think that was the coolest thing to just hear guys recognize, in the heat of the moment, after they won a championship, how there was a bigger picture.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: Tell us a little bit about your faith story and how you became a Christian.
Ryan Mathews: I would have said I was a Christian my whole life. I grew up going to church, always said I was a Christian, but really lived a life completely opposite of what you would think a Christian would be. And it wasn’t until I got to NC State to where my life really changed. I got involved in a Bible study through Athletes in Action and actually got a chance to go play in Alaska with Athletes in Action, which was a summer trip that really just taught everyone what it meant to be a follower of Christ; as well as it was a summer baseball league. At the end of that summer, I got baptized in a river in Alaska and it just really changed my life and turned it around. That’s when I would say that I was saved and really started following the Lord.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: From then on, how can you be an effective witness for Christ in a baseball clubhouse?
Ryan Mathews: It changed so much for me; honestly, it just changed my world around. My life really went from where baseball was the center of my life and God was just a very very small part of it, to completely the other way around. To where God was now the center of my life and baseball became a small part of it. It still took up most of my time, but priority wise, baseball became something I could use for God verses God becoming something I could use for baseball.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: Baseball’s schedule makes it really tough to be at church on Sundays. How do you make time for God during the baseball season?
Ryan Mathews: Well I was blessed to have other believers in Christ on my team at NC State and when I was in college, we’d try to find a church service that was early enough to go to, but we really couldn’t find one that we’d make it to. So guys would come over to my apartment, we’d hook up the computer to the TV, they’d bring breakfast over and we would just eat our breakfast before we went to the field and we would watch the church service on the TV which was really cool you know to be able to do that with other guys and just continue to grow even in the midst of a busy season schedule. It made a huge impact for all of us because we’ve all felt the effects of not being able to have fellowship and missing church throughout a long season that can weigh on you spiritually.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: After the season was over, you were drafted in the 27th round this year. What was that like?
Ryan Mathews: It was awesome. That had been a dream for me since I was a little kid and started playing baseball. Just having that come true, you know, I really can’t describe it. It’s an overwhelming feeling. I never thought that it would happen but when it did, it was just kind of, “All Glory to God,” because I never saw that really coming through after the last couple of years.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: And what went on that day? Were you sitting by the phone? Watching MLB.com? What were the moments that led up to that?
Ryan Mathews: I talked to some teams, and I thought I was actually gonna go a lot earlier than I did. So when the draft first started, I was watching it really close and watching every pick, and was pretty nervous about it. After the first two days, it got past the 15th round, and and I was just like, “I’ve got to give this up to God and just trust Him with it.” I actually stopped watching. Somebody else actually told me I got drafted. I wasn’t even the first one to know.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: So how long did it take before the team actually let you know that they drafted you?
Ryan Mathews: They actually called my coach before they called me. My coach came up to me and said, “You just got drafted.” It was shortly after that when they called me.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: How was your transition gone from being in college and playing ball to being a professional ballplayer?
Ryan Mathews: It’s definitely a transition. Obviously, it’s a job once you become a professional. So it’s a lot more work-like atmosphere. Obviously, still the main overall goal is to be the best player you can be and win. But it’s a lot more work-like. You know, that transition, I think was a lot easier for me being a college player verse some of these guys coming out of high school. I could definitely see how it’s easier for me opposed to some of the younger guys who might not have experienced a long college season.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: The minor league experience is seemingly all about getting to the big leagues, do guys care as much about winning at that level?
Ryan Mathews: You do. It definitely takes some away, but honestly, I think that some people, at any level they’re at, like to put themselves first. And honestly, deep down, I think a lot of people would say their own personal success is more important than the overall team success. I don’t know if many people would admit that. But I think that’s the case at a lot of levels which, I think it’s really a great platform just for Christianity and Christians just for the ability to show selflessness at all levels, not just professional. I think it’s increased even more since it becomes a job, but just that huge difference between when you see a guy who’s just out for himself and when you see a guy who’s out for all the other guys on the team.
SPORTS SPECTRUM: A lot of ballplayers will give themselves a certain amount of time before they give up the big league dream to go home start a family or new career. Are you giving yourself a timetable of how long you’ll play in the minors?
Ryan Mathews: I’m really not. I’m just so happy and blessed I got the opportunity to play. I really just enjoy the opportunity to just share the Gospel with guys out there in the minor leagues. I really look at it as an opportunity just to live in a place where not everybody can go. Just to be there is a really great experience to just share the good news and share Jesus in a place that I think really needs it. There’s a lot of guys that don’t know the Lord and aren’t Christians, and I feel like as long as I’m able to keep playing baseball, I love playing baseball, but as along as I’m able to be there and be in that place and try and be a light and be a friend to those guys out there, you know, I would keep doing it.
Getting to know Ryan
Growing up, the Braves were my favorite team. They were probably the only team I was able to watch on TV, they were always on TBS and I’m from Florida. They were actually my first Major League game in person, too. I grew up liking Chipper and the Braves.
Favorite MLB player
Growing up, my favorite player had to be “The Kid,” Ken Griffey Jr. Just watching him play, I don’t know, he just had so much fun when he played. He always had a smile on his face and just the catches he would make, that was really my inspiration growing up.
Favorite music to listen to
I like to listen to Lecrae and Tenth Avenue North. Pretty wide genre from Christian rap to Tenth Avenue North, but those are my two favorite bands. And I gotta support my boy, Scotty McCreery. I went and saw him in concert recently. For country he’d definitely be my favorite.
Hobbies outside of baseball
I like to play golf. I’m not that good at it. I enjoy doing it though. Usually that’s how I spend time with my dad, when I’m not playing baseball.
For the rest of the interview, click the podcast link below: