"I was a big fan of Paul Molitor," Matheny said before Monday's series opener. "I watched how he went about being a superstar in Milwaukee's organization when I was coming up. He and Robin Yount were the tandem that you wanted to watch, how they played the game. The way he personally reached out to young players, like me and some others, he made an impact. A lasting impact."
Matheny was selected by the Brewers in the eighth round of the 1991 Draft. Molitor's 15-year tenure with Milwaukee would end the following year, though their paths crossed during Spring Training in 1992.
On Monday, Matheny shared the story of his first summons to join the Brewers for a Major League Spring Training game. Brought over from Minor League camp for the day, Matheny was in the bullpen when then-Brewers manager Phil Garner called him to the dugout to pinch-hit for Molitor -- but only if Darryl Hamilton did not reach base ahead of him.
Matheny grabbed, as he described it, "that big old, crazy, double-ear-flap-looking helmet," only to have Molitor walk up to him and say, "You look stupid. Put this on." Matheny donned Molitor's helmet, went to the on-deck circle and then watched Hamilton hit a bloop double. Matheny handed the helmet back to Molitor as they swapped places.
"I doubt he remembers that, but I'll never forget," Matheny said. "We ended up losing, and I went over and looked at the scorecard, and they had already scratched out Molitor and wrote my name. I went to grab it and they threw it in the trash and somebody spit [on it]. I decided to leave it. That was my 'almost' moment."
Matheny made his Major League debut with the Brewers two years later. By then Molitor had moved on to play with the Twins.
The two reconnected in recent years and had conversations over the winter, during which Matheny shared some insight about what it was like to be a first-time manager.
"He did say that being in the Brewers system and having a chance to go back to some of the old players in those days, that I was a part of some of the teams he watched and followed," Molitor said. "So that's always very complimentary, and it's appreciated. The managing thing, I didn't reach out to a lot of people, but he's a guy who I have a lot of respect for, and I certainly have admired how he handled the transition coming in after Tony [La Russa], which wasn't an easy thing."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.