Mathews’ has ‘Love of the game’

Published 12:23 am Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bruce Mathews was looking for a way off the field. He made it off the field, but he could not make it to his car.

It was a crisp summer evening last year in Opp and Mathews, the umpire in chief of the umpires’ association in this area, was calling in a district championship game for high school aged baseball players. Mathews suffered a heart attack that night and was rushed to the hospital, but what he did not expect was the crowd of people that would be there to greet him when he woke up.

“I am a fairly private person in a lot of ways,” Mathews said. “You never know how many friends you really have until you are down and I was overwhelmed and blessed by the tremendous amount of support. Still to this moment it makes my lip quiver and blows my mind.”

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Mathews said it seemed like the whole community of Opp was at the hospital to see how he was doing.

“I had too many friends tell me how they were parking blocks and blocks away,” Mathews said. “After the winning team (Opp) got their trophy they were there. That’s why it is so special to me.”

And Mathews said this event showed him a little bit about the human spirit.

“Yeah, there is bad stuff out there and arguing between parents, coaches and umpires, but there is so much more good that no one ever knows about,” Mathews said. “There are relationships with coaches that I have developed all across this part of the state.”

Umpires can sometimes live lonely lives, but Mathews said they have friends too.

“That incident showed me I had a lot more friends than I thought I had,” he said. “I just hope I can be a friend back to them. Everybody who says umpires don’t have friends is wrong. All they had to do was come by that hospital that night or look at all the cards and phone calls I got from people after that incident.”

Troy Parks and Recreation Director Dan Smith may have the insight why Mathews, who is an investigator for the district attorney’s office, is so well liked.

“Bruce is extremely professional about everything, but what sets Bruce apart from many people is that he is just such a good person,” Smith said.

“He has been extremely great to work with. Once you spend a few minutes with Bruce you can tell a lot about his character and he has such a great heart.”

Mathews has been involved with law enforcement and recreation baseball and softball for 30 years. He was recruited to Troy from the attorney general’s office in Montgomery 15 years ago and he said his true passion can be found in helping people.

“I love people and I don’t see someone that needs help that I don’t think about how I can help,” Mathews said. “I always do the right thing. Anytime I can, I try to help. It gets harder the older you get. You start shutting down a little bit more, but you try not to because if you ever lose that passion you turn into a bitter old person.”

That passion for his work translates onto the diamond.

“I love the game,” Mathews said. “It is a form of exercise. I am just crazy about kids and kids make the world go round. Being out there and watching them play even in the negative times, I just love it as much as when I coached. Watching a kid accomplish what he didn’t think he could accomplish is great.”

Mathews said his job on the field can be difficult sometimes because he loves seeing children succeed.

“I have to stay neutral out there, but when a kid does something real good it takes a little extra effort not to cheer that kid on because that would seem biased,” Mathews said. “It is not about who is winning or anything to me. If this kid has just hit his first home run I want to congratulate him and high five him too, I don’t, but I want to.”

Smith said Mathews has been a great asset out there on the field for the recreation department.

“You can tell he is a compassionate person and a very fair person,” Smith said. “He sees things from all angles. You can tell he is a man of great judgment and that is a great characteristic to have as the head of the umpires’ association.”

Law enforcement and umpiring hooked Mathews and never let go.

“Being in law enforcement I have heard and seen negative my whole career,” he said. “But the things that make me feel the best are when I have helped a victim or helped someone in crisis when they feel violated, or recovered property for them or solved a major crime and given them some closure.

“The one on one with the victims far outweigh the negatives about law enforcement. You don’t get into law enforcement, like umpiring, for the money at least not at the level I am in it. I got into it on part-time basis, got hooked on it, fell in love with it and couldn’t get away.”

And when he does have that insane parent jawing in his ear all night on the field he has a specific way to get through that situation.

“I have always had an ability to tune what is going on outside the fence out,” Mathews said. “Back when I coached, my mom would come watch my son play and she would fuss because I wouldn’t speak to her, but I didn’t see her or hear her. I was focused on the game.

“Now don’t get me wrong, if someone really starts being ridiculous, you can’t help but hear it. They can’t really tell whether you are wrong or right because there are those calls that could go both ways and you have to call it and live with it.”

Before he was an umpire, Mathews was a coach in the Troy recreation system and the Montgomery recreation system. But when his son Hunter, now 27, was a junior in high school he knew his coaching career was over. He decided to give umpiring a shot.

“I loved kids so much that I wanted to stay involved so I got into umpiring and I have been doing that for around 10 years,” Mathews said. “People said I wouldn’t like it because people are yelling at you and I said if I don’t like it I won’t do it. It is not something I have to do, it is something I wanted to do to stay involved with the kids and the game.

“The kids are what it is all about as far as I am concerned. If we can be an influence in their lives in some way, small or great, it is just fantastic and I have always felt that way.”

And Mathews said his work on this planet must not be done yet.

“The nurses at the hospital came in and said they wanted to meet my guardian angel and the doctor said he didn’t know how I lived to be there,” he said. “So the good Lord has got something for me he wants me to do that I haven’t done yet. There is no doubt in my mind he has a mission and I just have to pay enough attention and keep doing what I do until He opens the door or shows me exactly what it is. According to the doctors I shouldn’t have made it that night.”

Mathews made it and he said he is focusing on putting the children first every day of his life.