By John Perrotto, Sports Xchange
March 21, 2012
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Mike Matheny had just answered a reporter's question about the challenges of being a first-year manager when an unexpected situation presented itself.
The visiting Cardinals were under the impression that the National League team could continue using a designated hitter in all exhibition games through Wednesday.
Yet nearly an hour after they had arrived at Disney's Wide World of Sports, the Cardinals were informed that the host Braves wanted the pitchers to bat in Monday's Grapefruit League game.
Matheny heard that news from the Cardinals' media relations director just as his team was starting batting practice. That forced him to make alterations to his lineup card before the Cardinals went on to a 4-3 victory.
"I better find Lance and tell him to grab a bat," Matheny said, referring to starting pitcher Lance Lynn.
There was no hint of Matheny being upset about being forced into changing his team's plans. He was calm and collected, and that is exactly how he intends to stay as replaces the legendary Tony La Russa as manager one season after the Cardinals won the World Series.
"Every day, something new presents itself," Matheny said. "Every day brings a different challenge. From that standpoint, though, it hasn't been a surprise. I talked to a lot of people who have done this job for a long time, and they said that the one thing about being a manager is that once you think you've seen or handled every situation, something new comes along.
"There are going to be challenges every day in this job."
Matheny's challenges are seemingly larger than those of most first-year managers. After all, he is replacing the third-winningest manager in baseball history and taking over a team that has nowhere to go but down after winning it all last season.
If that's not enough, Matheny is managing professionally for the first time on any level.
Matheny's 13-year playing career as a catcher ended with the Giants in 2006 because of post-concussion syndrome. He spent time as a businessman before joining the Cardinals' player-development department in 2010 as a special assistant.
Yet the Cardinals believe Matheny is ready for the task.
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak had a host of attractive candidates to pick from after La Russa decided to retire two days after the World Series, including former Red Sox manager Terry Francona, who has two World Series titles on his resume. Instead, Mozeliak hired Matheny.
"It was really an easy decision," Mozeliak said. "Mike just has a presence about him and such a great understanding of the game. He's a very impressive guy."
Matheny admits he is a "drab" interview and speaks in a lot of cliches.
But Matheny also says "cliches are cliches for a reason, and that's because they are basic truths of the game. I believe that if you do the things the right way then you'll have success."
Matheny seems to be the only person who doesn't think being the Cardinals' new manager is a big deal.
"It's all in your perspective," Matheny said. "I don't make more out of what I'm doing than there is because it would be a disadvantage to (the players). I look at this as an opportunity to fill a position that was available with this team and a chance to keep the momentum going that this organization has already established."
Matheny might have a matter-of-fact tone when talking about his new job, but he also realizes how fortunate he is to step into his current situation.
More often than not, teams in trouble are the ones looking for new managers rather than defending World Series champions.
"We have great veteran leadership," Matheny said. "We have a great group of players who go about their business the right way day after day. As a manager, that's the kind of players and team you want to manage.
"I feel very fortunate to be in this situation."
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