While many accomplished athletes and celebrities flee their hometowns for greener pastures, retired Major League Baseball player Don Mattingly’s love affair with Evansville continues unabated.
“There are a number of reasons,” says Mattingly, who soon will begin his first season as bench coach for the Toronto Blue Jays. “I had a chance to live in the New York area and out in L.A., both on the beach, and in Miami. But home is always home, and it has always been a fit for my family. I never felt the need to leave.”
He says he gets the best of both worlds in Evansville.
“You can’t say it’s not enough,” Mattingly says. “It was different in L.A. But you get back home, and it gives you a chance to slow down.”
Although he doesn’t get the opportunity to enjoy local functions in the spring and summer, he “gets a chance to see things day to day in the winter and create memories,” he says.
Family friend and Evansville optometrist Ben Garland says Mattingly, a 1979 Reitz Memorial High School graduate, likes the fact that he can go to a ballgame, a restaurant, or his youngest son Louie’s swim meet, and, for the most part, people leave him be.
“I remember a Thanksgiving years ago when Preston (Mattingly’s second-eldest son) was still playing basketball, and after a workout, Don and Preston went down to the Evansville Rescue Mission and helped serve the food,” Garland says. “No publicity, no social media yet, just Don and his son helping out.”
Through Mattingly Charities, the major leaguer gives back to his hometown — for example, by partnering with community organizer Courtney Johnson to assist those who are underserved.
“Some kids don’t have the same opportunities,” Mattingly says. “It’s tough not being successful. We stress education and social development.”
Since 2015, Mattingly Charities has partnered with many Evansville-based organizations to award grants for programs and projects helping less fortunate youth in education, social development, and athletics. Grant recipients include the Highland Challenger Baseball League for young athletes in the Tri-State and the upcoming Granddaddy’s Gar- den Spot in Evansville’s Glenwood neighborhood, which will feature a market, chicken coop, beehive, and greenhouse.
Through Granddaddy’s, Johnson will help provide fresh food to South Side residents on a plot of land owned by three generations of his family. He has been collaborating with Mattingly and his wife, Lori, whose charity donated $16,000.
“They reached out to us when they heard what we were doing for the community,” says Johnson, the founder and executive director of community organization Young & Established, Inc. “It’s some- thing they wanted to get behind. We reached out to a lot of local farmers if they were selling produce. Not only is it Don; Lori is doing great work. Both are great individuals. They did not even want recognition. They’ve made a huge impact. We already had the ball rolling. But it definitely takes funding for the garden.”
After issuing grants to more than two dozen local recipients, Mattingly isn’t concerned with his charity organization becoming too large.
“Most charities are attached to big money,” he says. “We do what we can do. I’m not worried about being too big. One of the things we want to do is help people be happy. Courtney is a good dude. He’s just one of the guys who helps.”
COACHING LOUIE, PLAYING WITH THE DOG, FLYING TO TORONTO
Mattingly, who turns 62 in April, envisioned a future coaching Louie, 8, in a youth baseball league, and playing with Bo, the family’s Golden Doodle puppy.
In October, he left the Miami Marlins after seven years as manager and didn’t necessarily plan to get back into Major League Baseball this upcoming season. Relaxing back home again on Evansville’s North Side, Mattingly received a pivotal phone call.
“All of a sudden, I’m going to Toronto,” he says. “I was excited about what they want to do. They have good, young talent, but they’re in a tough division with the Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Tampa Bay Rays. They have some really good young pitchers. I’m excited to be a part of it.”
John Schneider, a bench coach who became the Blue Jays’ interim manager on July 13, 2022, guided them to a 46-28 record and a second-place finish in the American League East. He was hired as permanent manager following the season. However, some Toronto fans grumbled on social media that Mattingly will lend an air of class to the Blue Jays and should be the manager, while Schneider should be his bench coach.
“If John wasn’t comfortable with me, I wouldn’t have taken that position,” says Mattingly, named National League Manager of the Year in 2020 for guiding the Marlins to their first postseason berth since 2003.
He also led the Los Angeles Dodgers to three successive National League West Division titles from 2013 to 2015.
“They looked at me and how I would fit with their organization, how important I would be to them,” Mattingly says. “I wasn’t worried about being manager. I want to win. It was a good fit. Everything fit.”
He says you have to adapt and adjust in the ever-changing game of baseball.
“You learn early on that you have to keep going forward,” Mattingly says. “You have to learn, good or bad, that it’s another experience.”
He received an opportunity in Toronto that he just couldn’t pass up. Baseball is implementing changes in hopes of speed- ing up the game and generating more interest, especially among younger people.
“I like the pitch clock,” Mattingly says. “It should help the pace.”
A six-time American League All-Star and nine-time Gold Glove first baseman for the New York Yankees, Mattingly fell short of election in December to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, gaining eight votes in balloting by the 16-member Contemporary Baseball Era committee.
Twelve votes were necessary for induction. Former Atlanta Braves first baseman Fred McGriff was the only player elected.
“The No. 1 thing is I’m happy for Fred,” says Mattingly, the 1984 American League batting champion and the AL’s 1985 Most Valuable Player. “We grew up (in the majors) at the same time and had the same agent (Jim Krivacs). Look at his numbers” — 493 career home runs, five-time All-Star.
Mattingly had been nominated for the Hall so many times, he didn’t want to get too excited about the latest balloting. But he couldn’t help himself. After getting pumped up for the first 24 hours, it settled into a familiar pattern.
“Everything was exactly the same,” Mattingly says. “I don’t think it changed either way.”
Instead, he focuses on the achievements of others. He’s proud of his son Preston, who at 35 years old is the Philadelphia Phillies’ director of player development.
“I’m happy for Preston,” his father said. “He works hard.”
After spending the previous five years with the San Diego Padres organization, Preston — a Central High School graduate — played a role last season in the Phillies reaching the World Series in his first year.
“The hardest thing for Preston was going back to school at 26,” Mattingly says about Preston’s choice, after six seasons in minor league baseball, to go to college and play basketball. Preston played for Pat Knight at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.
“That was a tough decision,” Mattingly says. “He worked his way up to a job with the Padres.”
Mattingly says there is a word-of- mouth network around MLB about who’s talented. Phillies President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski heard good things about Preston and grabbed him.
In August 2022, news broke that Evansville officials and MLB are exploring hosting a regular-season game at Bosse Field in 2024 or thereafter. But there is nothing definitive, except Mattingly’s enthusiasm for the idea.
“It would be awesome, it really would,” he says.
Hosting a regular-season major league game would be a fitting tribute to the country’s third-oldest professional baseball stadium in continuous operation, says Bill Bussing, who owns the Evansville Otters, a Frontier League team that plays at Bosse Field.
“More than a hundred Hall of Famers have visited Bosse Field in some capacity since it opened in 1915,” Bussing says. “What better place for MLB to salute base- ball’s heritage? I believe it would be the first major league (regular season) game ever played in Indiana.”
Mattingly saw the Cincinnati Reds come to Bosse Field and play the Evansville Triplets in an exhibition game on June 7, 1973. However, Bosse Field doesn’t meet current MLB specifications, and renovations would need to be funded by private donors in order for the game to take place.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Mattingly says. “I don’t have any say in it.” But he will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in the Toronto Blue Jays’ drive for another playoff berth when spring train- ing begins in late February in Bradenton, Florida. And he still making moves: Jan. 9, it was announced that Mattingly concurrently will serve as an adviser to the Nashville Stars baseball team in support of its efforts to be MLB’s next expansion franchise.
An enthusiast for community involvement, in 2007, Don Mattingly created Mattingly Charities, a nonprofit that funds baseball and softball equipment and youth development services for underserved children. Originally founded in North Haven, Connecticut, in 2015, Mattingly and his wife, Lori, moved the organization’s headquarters back to their hometown so it could focus on helping Evansville youth.
Since then, grants from Mattingly Charities have benefited Evansville-area organizations such as the United Methodist Youth Home, YWCA, the University of Evansville’s AceBuddies program, Healing Reins of Kentucky, Granted, Youth First, YMCA of Southwestern Indiana, the Southside Stars Youth Zone, Mickey’s Kingdom, Delaware Elementary School, the Boys & Girls Club of Evansville, Glenwood Leadership Academy, Easterseals Rehabilitation Center, Fairlawn Elementary School, Junior Achievement of Southwestern Indiana, the Dream Center, and the COVID-19 Crisis Response Fund of the Greater Evansville Region.
— Jodi Keen
Don Mattingly’s MLB Career
1979: Don Mattingly is selected by the New York Yankees in the 19th round of the MLB draft.
1979-1982: Mattingly plays for Minor League Baseball teams in New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Ohio.
1982-1995: Making his Major League Baseball debut with the Yankees, Mattingly spends his entire 13-season playing career in New York.
1997: Mattingly officially ends his MLB playing career. The Yankees retire his number, 23, and dedicate a plaque in his honor at Yankee Stadium.
1997-2003: Staying with his former team, Mattingly serves as a special instructor
at Yankees’ spring training.
2001: Mattingly is inducted into the Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame.
2004-2007: Mattingly serves first as the Yankees’ hitting coach and then bench coach.
2008-2015: Switching coasts, Mattingly works for the Los Angeles Dodgers, moving up to manager in 2010.
2016-2022: Mattingly manages the Miami Marlins.
Sept. 25, 2022: It’s announced that Mattingly and the Marlins will part ways when the season ends.
Nov. 30, 2022: The Toronto Blue Jays announce they have hired Mattingly to serve as their bench coach starting with the 2023 season.
Jan. 9, 2023: Mattingly confirms that he will serve as an adviser to the Nashville Stars in addition to his duties with the Blue Jays.