Matheny would be passed over for Moises Alou, not knowing at the time that he'd never get another shot to play in the Midsummer Classic. Concussions ended Matheny's playing career before the next one came around, leaving a Gold Glove Award collection of four as the most tangible validation that he had of a career highlighted by his abilities behind the plate.
It wasn't until Monday that Matheny, now 43, realized how meaningful it would be to be labeled an All-Star.
"To be able to be a part of this because of that is, I think, an ongoing reward of watching your team play well," said Matheny, who earned the opportunity to manage the National League team by leading the Cardinals to the World Series last fall. "But to be able to say I had a part in an All-Star Game, regardless of how you get here, is an honor, and is something I don't take lightly. Somebody in that locker room is going to be affected by how this game goes."
That was Matheny, a third-year manager, speaking as he always does of wins and losses and leaving everything out on the field. For the first time in a long time, though, that did not consume his day.
With an appreciation for how rare an All-Star opportunity can be, Matheny arrived in Minnesota intending to relish every bit of it. He compared forming his lineup to a fantasy baseball experience. "So cool" was how he later described it.
Matheny jumped at the chance to throw batting practice to a group of four -- including the NL Central's Andrew McCutchen, Jonathan Lucroy and Aramis Ramirez -- during Monday's workout. There were handshakes and photos, and items to autograph, and people to meet. It all made the typically stoic skipper let loose. His smile hardly faded.
"I'm not going to deny myself the opportunity to enjoy this," Matheny said. "[On Tuesday], you'll see the same [gameday] scowl. That's just kind of who I am. But this is fun."
Matheny especially enjoyed the fraternizing, something he had long ago been taught had no place in professional baseball. He heeded that warning to the extreme as a player and was actually reminded of that by former opponent and current broadcaster Sean Casey on Monday. Matheny took Casey's description of him as "the meanest nice guy he's ever played against" as a compliment.
Yet here, Matheny willingly shed the façade.
"Even if there was bad blood before, you never really think it was going on right now," Matheny said. "Guys are proud of what they've done, proud to represent their league and proud to be on this team. It's fun to watch it all come together."
To watch the All-Star experience through the eyes of his sons, though, topped Matheny's first full day at Target Field, the skipper said. He was joined by three of his four boys (the eldest, Tate, is away playing baseball for the USA's collegiate national team) on the field for batting practice, each of them wearing a replica of their dad's All-Star jersey. His wife and daughter are also in town.
It was all a reward for the job Matheny did in navigating the Cardinals to and through last October, a career highlight he reflected on as he went about creating another.
"When I walked out here, with the combination of the weather, the buzz and the amount of people, it felt like October to me," Matheny said. "It actually almost felt like World Series. That cool weather and people everywhere, man, it just brought back a really good memory of being in the World Series."