Texas's Patrick Mathis at bat against UNLV during their win on Sunday, February 21, 2016. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Baseball

With grandfather’s death on his mind, Patrick Mathis keeps igniting Texas’ surging lineup

After hearing of grandfather's passing, Mathis stayed with team and helped Texas take two games from No. 10 Texas Tech

Posted April 28th, 2016

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Story highlights
  • Mathis' grandfather, Kenneth Cleveland, died last Friday in what Waco police believe was a homicide. Mathis got the news after UT's game at Texas Tech.
  • After getting just one hit last year as a freshman, Mathis leads Texas in batting average and home runs and is tied for the lead in RBIs.
  • Former UT second baseman Todd Haney is Mathis' personal hitting coach and believes Mathis will go down as one of the all-time greats at Texas.

A handful of times last weekend, Texas Tech whipped up an exaggerated defensive shift, daring Patrick Mathis — Texas’ leading hitter, and a lefty — to hit to the opposite field.

Mathis, who apparently is developing a reputation around the Big 12 as a pull hitter, made an adjustment and twice uncorked a liner up the middle to score runs.

Mathis’ hot stick is among the reasons the Longhorns (20-21, 9-6) are playing their best ball of the season heading into this final month. Against Tech, Mathis recorded three RBIs in all three games and contributed to a pair of victories that brought UT to within three games of the Big 12-leading Red Raiders.

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But the major defensive shift wasn’t the toughest challenge Mathis faced in Lubbock. Far from it, actually. It was the tragic and sudden loss of his grandfather, who died Friday near Waco in what police there are investigating as a homicide.

The death of Kenneth Cleveland, an AT&T repairman, was initially thought to be an accident before additional evidence suggested foul play was involved. Cleveland, 61, was a regular at Texas home games.

Word of Cleveland’s passing reached Mathis after Friday’s game, a 13-6 loss. With no easy way out of West Texas, he stayed with his team and drove in six runs over the next two days in a series upset over the nation’s 10th-ranked team.

“Being in Lubbock, there wasn’t really much I could do,” Mathis said. “I felt like for me at that time going about my regular schedule would be the best thing for me. My grandmother — his wife — passed away while I was in high school during the baseball season. The way I handled it was I tried to go about my routine the same every day and tried to not let it impact me too much. Of course, I’m gonna feel sorrow and grief, but I felt like being in Lubbock I couldn’t do too much at that time.”

On Tuesday, Mathis went 1-for-3 with a run scored in a 6-2 win over Texas State. He’s now hit safely in 11 of the last 12 games. And in that one game where he didn’t get a hit, April 19 vs. UT Rio Grande Valley, he drew three walks.

Mathis, the oldest of six boys, had planned to attend his grandfather’s funeral on Thursday before rejoining the team for its weekend series against Oklahoma State (25-15, 9-6). The Cowboys come to Austin tied with Texas for third place in the Big 12, and whoever comes out on top will make up ground on the loser of a 1-vs.-2 matchup in Fort Worth between Texas Tech (32-12, 12-3) and TCU (29-10, 10-5).

It’ll be a good weekend for Big 12 baseball.

“I feel like we can pull this thing out, honestly,” Mathis said.

Mathis said he’ll continue to write his grandfather’s initials — KC — on his wrist tape.

“It’s sad, but he’s a tough guy and he’ll get through it,” said shortstop Joe Baker.

At the trajectory he’s riding, Mathis could be headed for stardom. As a freshman last year, he was stuck behind veteran outfielders Collin Shaw and Ben Johnson and began the season 0-for-15 before coming through with a RBI single against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 title game. Over the offseason he added 10 pounds of muscle and is now up to 215 pounds — about 25 more than when he arrived to campus as a freshman.

Texas' outfielder Patrick Mathis readies to take the field against Lamar. The Texas Longhorn baseball team took on Lamar University in a non-conference game at UFCU Disch-Falk Field Tuesday night March 29, 2016. RALPH BARRERA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Texas’ outfielder Patrick Mathis readies to take the field against Lamar. The Texas Longhorn baseball team took on Lamar University in a non-conference game at UFCU Disch-Falk Field Tuesday night March 29, 2016.
RALPH BARRERA/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The results have been profound. The sophomore right fielder is first on the team in batting average (.316) and home runs (five). He’s tied with Tres Barrera for the RBI lead with 27, this despite Mathis missing seven games early in the season with a tweaked hamstring.

With respect to Kacy Clemens, who has gone from an offensive liability to an all-league type of performer at first base, Mathis is the biggest surprise in a lineup with seven regulars hitting at least .294.

“When you work as hard as Mathis has worked, you believe you deserve to win,” UT coach Augie Garrido said. “You deserve to be rewarded for all of that work.”

Mathis said he spent the offseason refining his swing with Texas hitting coach Tommy Nicholson as well as with his personal hitting coach, Todd Haney, an All-Southwest Conference second baseman at Texas in the 1980s. Emphasized was the need for Mathis to spray the ball to all fields, just as he did to beat Tech’s shift.

“Based on his work ethic and his commitment to his craft, I think he’ll leave Texas as one of the best players, and I think his ceiling is that he is going to be a Major League Baseball player,” Haney said.

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