“The Ultimate”: Baseball Lifer Matetich Chases Championship

By Carlos Verde • Photo by Dan Congdon

Kitchener Panthers manager Bill Matetich is the prototypical baseball manager: A former player, returning to the ballpark year upon year out of both habit and a genuine desire to help ballplayers develop.

At 13-10, with wins over three of the four teams ahead of them, the Panthers are a very real threat to make a deep run in the Intercounty playoffs — something that would serve as a crowning achievement for the lifelong baseball man in charge.

“I was part of six championships with the (Stratford) Hillers as a player, and five as a coach at other levels (but) to do it in this league would be the ultimate,” reflected Matetich, who is in his first IBL managerial post after stops as a bench coach with Brantford and Hamilton. “It’s something I keep envisioning and telling our guys — they are talented, and have every right to think that way.”

Kitchener is unique, a community-owned club featuring both stellar Cuban imports and strong homegrown talent.

“(GM) Mike Boehmer did a great job in the off-season, (and) we’ve got a good ball club that is deep and versatile,” said Matetich. “Humberto Ruiz who is back now will be a big plus for us, and our statistics on both sides of the ball are greatly improved.”

Coaching with an eye to the mental side of the game — decades from his radar as a player in the 1980s — is important to the Panthers boss.

“We’ve focused on good fundamentals and the right attitude, starting in our winter indoor workouts,” he explained. “We did some mental health coaching, letting them know that ‘hey, you’re going to fail’ and we need to flush things when they happen.”

The Panthers will need to flush their current three-game skid, but have the core pieces to compete on any given night: infielder Raul Gonzalez has driven in an IBL-high 35 RBI, while pitcher Christian Hauck co-leads the league in wins (4).

With nearly four decades of coaching behind him, Matetich understands that the time is now — for him personally, at least — to make run at the Dominico Cup.

“It’s a lot of time, I own a business and have a very supportive family that allows me to do this four nights per week,” he reflected. “I won’t be doing it forever, but I love it — I love coming to the ballpark and seeing these guys grow.”

Matetich manages the same way he played the game: Paying attention to fundamentals and ensuring the men on his club are in the right frame of mind to compete.

“I was a bench player, a backup catcher (and) I studied the game,” remembered Matetich. “I started managing 38 years ago in junior, and I’ve loved the game since I was five years old.

“Baseball is my sanctuary, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Managing Kitchener to an Intercounty championship would be one of the greatest rewards that sanctuary has gifted him over his lifetime in the game.

Ultimately, of course, it will be up to the Panthers themselves — Gonzalez, Hauck and co. — to try and push the baseball lifer at their helm to the promised land.