WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Tony La Russa allowed players to bring their sons to the clubhouse before games when he managed the St. Louis Cardinals.
The unofficial rule was to be seen but not heard, which was never a problem for Tate Matheny.
“I’d be in the clubhouse going over the game plan with the pitcher and [pitching coach] Dave Duncan, and Tate would be out in center field shagging fly balls with Jim Edmonds,” said Mike Matheny, who caught for the Cardinals from 2000-04, then managed the team for six seasons starting in 2012.
“My son loved being at the ballpark. It was like a second home for him. It was amazing watching him out there when he was 10 years old.”
Tate soaked up the experience, especially the perks of big league life.
“I can remember being a little kid and the players were getting free Oakley sunglasses one day, and I told my dad I wanted to be a pro player because they got free sunglasses,” he said. “But once I started playing, I just loved the game.”
Tate briefly thought about being a catcher but didn’t have the same passion for the position that his father did.
“You really have to love being a catcher to play it at a high level,” Tate said. “I loved being an outfielder, running around. That was what I enjoyed, and I stuck with that.
Father and son were at a ballpark together again Tuesday. But this time Mike was in the stands to watch Tate play right field for the Red Sox.
“He left me tickets,” Mike said. “That was a first.”
Tate was 1 for 3 with an RBI as the Sox beat the Washington Nationals, 8-4. The 25-year-old is 6 of 19 (.316) in nine games for the Sox, with a home run and four RBIs. He also has played well defensively at all three outfield positions.
“He has great instincts out there,” Sox outfield coach Tom Goodwin said. “Tate knows how to go get a ball. We like him as a player.”
A former fourth-round draft pick signed for $512,700, Matheny has not developed as quickly at the plate as the Sox anticipated. He has a .673 OPS and 14 home runs over four seasons.
But he is a standout defender and has stolen 66 bases in 99 attempts.
Tate has worked with major league hitting coaches Tim Hyers and Andy Barkett on adjustments to his swing.
“Those guys are the best at what they do,” Tate said. “J.D. Martinez has helped me with my swing a lot the last few days, too. It’s getting better. My job is to get on base and score runs. If the home runs come, great, but I’m not expecting that.”
Sox manager Alex Cora understands what Tate is experiencing. When he was drafted in 1996, his older brother Joey had been in the majors for nine seasons.
Cora viewed it as a positive.
“You had an idea of what was going on,” he said. “With Tate, his dad played and was a manager. He knows what to expect.
“Mike was very strict, and you can see with him everything is ‘yes sir.’ I want him to laugh a little more. But he knows how to play the game and is a good player.”
The Cardinals selected Tate in the 23rd round of the 2012 draft when he was in high school. But he decided to attend Missouri State instead and had a standout career, helping lead the Bears to the 2015 NCAA Super Regionals. Missouri State fell one game shy of the College World Series, losing a one-run game against Arkansas.
The Sox took Razorbacks outfielder Andrew Benintendi in the first round of the draft a day later. Matheny went in the fourth round two days later.
The college rivals were assigned to Single A Lowell and quickly became friends. Benintendi was an usher when Matheny got married in 2016.
“I never expected we would become really good friends,” Matheny said. “But we spent a lot of time together in baseball and then in the offseason. Andrew is a great guy.”
Tate feels he’s better off in the Red Sox organization than he would be with the Cardinals, who fired his father last season. There are occasional comments from the stands but nothing that bothers him.
“It would have been much worse with the [St. Louis] organization,” he said. “I’m glad I’m where I am. I was excited to get a shot with a different team.”
Tate and his wife Margaret had a son, Ryker, last June.
Maybe Ryker will someday come to Fenway Park to watch Tate play and run around the outfield before the game. His grandfather would like to see that, too.