The first former A-State student-athlete to be featured in Throwback Thursday is former ASU relief pitcher Steve Mattingly. After serving in the U.S. Army out of high school, Mattingly played baseball at ASU in 1992 and 1993 under head coach Bill Bethea. He only logged 8.1 innings for A-State in his playing career, but during his time at ASU he found his passion for umpiring. Now he is umpiring on college baseball's biggest stage, the College World Series.
Q & A Session with Steve Mattingly
How was your playing career at Arkansas State?
On my best day, I was an average Division I pitcher. I only pitched in a few blowouts. My main role on the team was as a scrimmage pitcher and I knew that so I wasn't ever mad about playing time.
What are some of your best memories from your time at ASU?
One was a life lesson from coach Bethea. We were down at a tournament in South Texas and we had a 5-0 lead in the ninth inning. I went 0-2 on the first hitter, but he got on base and then I walked a guy, so two guys on, nobody out. Third guy comes up to bat and I go 0-2 on him and throw a slider low and away, out of the zone, and he just kind of threw his bat at the pitch and poked it into the outfield for a hit. Coach Bethea walked out of the dugout and got to the mound and said, "Give me the ball." I told him I could finish it, just give me a chance. We went back and forth a couple times and all he said was, "Give me the ball." Finally, he said, "Sarge, you just don't have your best stuff tonight." I told him that was the best I had, and his response was, "Well sometimes in life your best isn't good enough, so give me the ball." It's a funny story that I laugh about now, but it really was a life lesson for me. There are going to be times in life when your best just isn't good enough and you have to find a way to bounce back from that and realize that giving your best is all you can do.
Another thing I have is a newspaper clipping from when the new stadium was built in 1993. It had a really good picture of it on there and I had all the guys sign it. I still have it to this day.
Why did they call you Sarge?
I was in the army before I came to ASU, so the guys and coaches knew that and started calling me Sarge, so it stuck while I was here.
Why did you decide to get into umpiring?
I just have a passion for it and for the game of baseball. I started doing it in college and I just fell in love with it and I love serving the game of baseball as an umpire.
What was it that happened at ASU to get you into umpiring?
One day I was in class and one of the guys in my class recognized me as a baseball player and asked me if I wanted to umpire a game with him. I said sure and we went out to some small town around Jonesboro and I immediately fell in love with it.
What happened after you fell in love with umpiring?
Well I actually ended up leaving the team because I knew it was what I wanted to do. Coach Bethea supported my decision and I actually kept coming to practices and umpiring the scrimmages to help the team out and also gain more experience.
What kind of education did you have to obtain to become an umpire?
I graduated from ASU and I actually went an extra semester so I could take out another loan to help pay for umpiring school once I got out. I went to umpiring school and there are three schools. To graduate you have to finish in the top 20% from all three of the schools, not just your own. I ended up finishing in the top 10% of about 380 people from all three schools.
What levels have you umpired and where are you at right now?
I've umpired in the minor leagues, pretty much every level including AA in the Texas League and AAA in the PCL. When I umpired games in Little Rock or Memphis, some of my former teammates including Mitch Mathis and other friends and family would come watch me umpire and we'd be able to catch up after the games. Right now, I'm umpiring collegiately in the PAC 12 conference and I love it.
What would you consider the highlights of your umpiring career?I know it sounds cliché, but every day I get to step on the field is a highlight for me. A couple of things do stick out for me though. I got to work MLB Spring Training games one season and I remember doing a game between the Diamondbacks and Indians and Charles Nagy was on the mound for the Indians. That was a special feeling. Obviously, being in the College World Series right now is a big deal for me, but be careful what you wish for. We're under a microscope here, but it's been a blast so far. It was also pretty cool for me to see one of my former teammates at A-State, Ryker Robinson here at the College World Series. He was out in right field and I went out and saw him. He was wearing an A-State shirt and we were able to catch up for a bit.