I know a lot of people are criticizing Gary Matthews Jr. for taking the stand he’s taking, wanting to play every day. People wonder how a guy making the kind of money he’s making can act like he’s not happy. I hear that all the time. You’re making all that money, how can you complain? What’s your problem? Well, that’s not fair at all, if you understand the mindset of an athlete. We’re competitors by nature, and we all want to be part of something special.
I understand perfectly how Gary feels. Gary’s an athlete. He grew up loving the game and playing for nothing. That’s what got him where he is, that passion he has for the game. The fact he’s now making a lot of money doesn’t change that. He feels he can play at a high level — and I agree with him.
We play the same position, and I know what it takes to get it done. Gary’s a terrific center fielder, and he can also play left and right. But we’ve got a lot of talent everywhere in this clubhouse, and even though that’s great for the organization, it’s not so great for some of the players.
You can’t expect a guy who loves the game to sit on the bench and be happy about it. I’ve always felt older guys who are near the end of their careers make the best bench guys, because they know what they can do and how to respond to situations. Younger guys just want to get out and play. Gary’s not a kid — he’s 34. But he’s not an old guy, either. He’s healthy again, and he wants to get out and show the world what he can do. How can you blame him for that?
Bobby Abreu is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Because of the economy in baseball now, he had to take an $11 million cut this year, down to $5 million, to come play for us. He did it because he loves the game and wants to play baseball. He’s here every day, cracking us up with jokes, laughing, having a great time. I knew he was a great player, but seeing him every day now, i can see he’s a great teammate, too. He’s going to be good for this club in the clubhouse as well as on the field. Bobby’s a real pro.
I know what it’s like to be frustrated with your situation. I was the same way back with Minnesota. I’d be hitting like .450 in the spring, but they had Otis Nixon in center field in ’97 and ’98, and I couldn’t make the team, no matter what I did. It kind of messes with your mind when you’re young.
That’s why I’m always talking to Brandon Wood, Matt Brown, Sean Rodriguez, all these young dudes who can play but have established veterans in front of them. I tell them to be patient, that their time will come. I know how frustrating it is, but you have to keep working, keep improving — and be ready when your opportunity arrives. I tell them it’s the same game up here. That doesn’t change. What changes is the hype, the fans. It’s the spotlight, and how you handle it.
The talent level on this club is really amazing. Man, I look around and shake my head. We’ve got athletes all over the place. That’s why I feel for Gary. This guy is a premier athlete. I know it’s tough on him emotionally. It doesn’t matter if you’re making $500 million — you want to play. That’s true of 99 percent of the guys in the Major Leagues. Manny Ramirez is playing because he loves the game, loves to hit. I know Manny, and he lives for the game, the competition.
Gary is no different. He just wants to play. That doesn’t make him a bad guy, by any means. It makes him an athlete.