I was on vacation in San Diego recently, and because the quality of big league baseball hasn’t been too strong there lately, my sister Erin and I headed up to Lake Elsinore to take in a California League (Advanced Class A) game.
I was familiar with many of the Lake Elsinore players, since many of them came through Eugene (a Padres affiliate) in the Northwest League. But I didn’t realize until I got there that I would know someone from the other team as well — one Travis “Moose” Mattair.
Mattair, a former three-sport star at Southridge High in Kennewick, was playing for the Bakersfield Blaze, having joined them after being picked up by Cincinnati in the minor league portion of this year’s Rule 5 draft.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to talk with him, but I made a point of watching him closely throughout the game.
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I have to say he looked like a guy who was having a good time playing baseball. I’m not sure that was always the case.
For those who don’t know the story, Mattair was drafted in the second round by Philadelphia in 2007 and took a break from the game after the 2009 season. He returned to the Phillies organization in 2011 after playing a year of college basketball at Boise State.
Based on what I saw, I think Moose — a nickname he’s had since childhood — is glad to be back.
Batting in the No. 3 slot, he singled up the middle in his first at bat, clapping his hands hard after making the turn at first. It would have been an RBI, but leadoff man Billy Hamilton had already stolen second and third base and come home on an infield grounder by the No. 2 hitter. Mattair later got caught trying to steal second, ending the inning, but he made a gallant attempt to elude the tag of second baseman Vince Belnome.
Moose came out in the bottom half of the inning and played third base. He did committ an error, pulling his first baseman off the bag on a long throw, but the runner did not come around to score.
In the top of the third, Mattair drove in what proved to be the winning run on an infield grounder, scoring Hamilton from third for a 3-0 lead. But his best at-bats were still to come.
In the top of the sixth, he came up with a runner on second base and nobody out. He fought off a tough two-strike pitch from Lake Elsinore starter Matthew Andriese and put a nice inside-out swing on it, driving it to right field so the runner could advance to third.
There were a few points during the game where I observed Moose chatting it up with a teammate on the bench, maybe giving him some pointers. Mattair isn’t old by any stretch at 23, but he’s been in the game long enough to pass on some wisdom.
I also caught him enjoying one of Lake Elsinore’s between-inning personalities, a level-10 maniac known as the Rally Cop. He ran onto the field waving a team flag, yelling at the top of his lungs, and then proceeded to fire soft-core baseballs (”I aim for the face!!” he screamed) into the stands as hard as he could.
An amusing sight, to say the least, and Moose couldn’t help cracking a smile at the spectacle of it all.
I shared a few stories about Mattair with my sister, so she felt comfortable enough to join me in a couple of “Moose” calls when he came up to bat to lead off the eighth. I don’t know if he heard us, but he grounded a ball deep in the hole at shortstop and legged out the infield single.
Bakersfield ended up winning the game 4-2, and while the Blaze isn’t off to a great start in the second half, it won the first-half title. A lot of that has to do with Mattair.
After hitting just .156 in April, he’s been one of the team’s most productive hitters, raising his average to .258. He’s hitting .358 in his last 16 games with three home runs, 14 RBIs and an impressive .567 slugging percentage.
With production like that, it looks like Cincinnati got a steal with the 6-foot-5 Mattair, who is starting to live up to the potential he flashed at Southridge.
If he keeps it up, that type of play could take him all the way to the top.
But he appears to be enjoying things one step at a time.