Tate Matheny, Westminster, is congratulated by his teammates after scoring on a balk in the sixth inning in the Wildcats' 8-2 win over Marshall in the Class 3 semifinal. (Andrew Jansen | STLhighschoolsports.com)

Andrew Jansen

With eye-black on his face, bat in hands and the quickest wrists this side of the Mississippi, Tate Matheny is a nightmare in spikes. The senior center fielder for Westminster is what lives under opposing pitchers’ beds. He’s what goes bump in the night.

Consider this—Matheny, who’s 6 feet and 175 pounds of dynamite, doesn’t have to take the bat off his shoulder to make an impact on a game. Earlier this season against MICDS, Matheny was walked, stole second base, stole third base and then scored when he deked the pitcher into a balk. No, he doesn’t have to hit the ball to give a pitcher the willies. But when he takes a cut, it’s usually going far away, in a hurry.

Matheny, 18, cranked out a .610 batting average that included 11 home runs, 11 triples and 10 doubles. And he did it the first year the state of Missouri mandated all high school players use a bat that has less pop in it. The area’s top power hitter, Matheny also would drive in 51 runs, score 60 runs, steal 25 bases and draw 31 walks, all while helping Westminster defend it’s Class 2 state title.

The Wildcats knocked around Metro League foe Lutheran South 10-4 the first Saturday in June at Meador Park in Springfield to repeat as state champions. This came a day after dismantling Marshall 8-2 in the semifinals. It was the fitting end to a season that was nothing short of dominating. Westminster finished 29-3 while riding a 26-game winning streak. “I’m glad I got to do it with this group of guys. It’s been a blast. They’ve become my best friends,” Matheny says.

And Matheny was right there in the middle of it and doing it all without the one guy he’d always leaned on, his dad. Tate’s father is Mike Matheny, the manager of the Cardinals. There are plenty of perks to managing a Major League Baseball team. Spending time with your family during the spring isn’t one of them. Tate had to adjust to not having his father around as much as he used to be. What could have been a tough situation turned out to be a great learning experience. “At first it was weird,” the younger Matheny says. “The only thing that really changed was he wasn’t around to help me out of a slump. It was fine for me. This is how it’s going to be next year.”

A Missouri State University recruit, Matheny will take his talents to Springfield in the fall and, if all goes well, suit up for the Bears in the outfield. He was selected last week by the Cardinals in the 23rd round of the amateur draft as what the organization called a “legacy pick.” Next year, though, will be the first Matheny spends all of his time focused on baseball. A standout hockey player, Matheny hung up his skates this winter and is putting them away for good. As gifted as Matheny is on the diamond, he’s incredibly blessed on the ice, too. He scored 54 goals and handed out 26 assists this winter. His 12 hat tricks were tops in the St. Louis area.

One thing he won’t miss about hockey is the smell. The pads, soaked with sweat, are notoriously hard to keep clean. Combine that with the funk that naturally emanates from a teenage boy, you get a potent concoction. Matheny, though, was never the worst offender. In fact, he was, on occasion, complimented on how fresh he smelled because his mother, paving her way to sainthood, cleaned his pads. “I’d come to a face off and (his opponent) would say You smell good,” Matheny says.

With his pads away, Matheny is focused on baseball. Focused on continuing to swing a sweet stick. Focused on becoming someone else’s nightmare.