MORGANTOWN — Following his high school career at Westside High in Anderson, South Carolina, and collegiate career at East Carolina University, new West Virginia Black Bears coach Kieran Mattison was ready to make baseball his life’s work.
After college, Mattison, a right-handed pitcher, began his professional career, which spanned eight years, multiple leagues and took him to places like Wilmington, North Carolina; Buffalo, New York; Calgary; Pensacola, Florida; and many other stops in between.
As a player, Mattison knew that once his career on the mound came to a close he wasn’t ready to step away just yet, and began to lay the foundation for a future in coaching.
“When I was still playing, I used to ask a lot of questions about stuff I didn’t know,” Mattison said. “I was trying to help myself, because I was a pitcher. I’ve always been a student of the game, and I’ve played for a lot of good coaches in college and pro ball, and they inspired me to get into coaching.”
After coaching in France in 2013, Mattison joined the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, and in 2016 served as the hitting coach of the Gulf Coast League Pirates before coaching the Pirates Dominican Summer League team last season.
Now, following the promotion of 2017 Black Bears manager Brian Esposito to AAA Indianapolis, Mattison will take over as the manager of the Black Bears, the Pirates’ Short-Season Single A franchise in Morgantown.
“For me it’s a great opportunity to continue growing as a teacher and an opportunity to learn how to lead men,” Mattison said. “Being in the (Dominican Republic) and the (Gulf Coast League) the last couple years, we don’t have the crowd, but for me the challenge is to not buy into the crowd, but give the crowd something to come see.
“That’s guys playing hard and playing the game of baseball the way it’s supposed to be played and making the fans excited about what they see.”
The Black Bears begin the season June 15 on the road at Mahoning Valley, and open their home schedule at Monongalia County Ballpark June 21 against State College.
The roster Mattison will manage is far from being set, and likely won’t be complete until after the June 12 MLB Draft. In the past, the Pirates have assigned top draft picks such as Kevin Newman, Will Craig and others to Morgantown, and Mattison is ready to work with whoever he is given and prepare them for their professional career.
“Whatever they draft, my mind is to get them better,” Mattison said. “That’s the mind set of me and the staff that has been here. We’re looking forward to teaching.”
Mattison expects any of the players currently in extended spring training who join the team to be the ones who set the tone in Morgantown, since they’ve been with the organization for some time. He knows that in short-season single A ball, the goal is development of players to hopefully one day take the field for the Pirates at PNC Park, and his job is to teach and aid in their development.
“My mind set is that I’m pouring concrete. I’m setting a strong foundation for these guys so when they get to Pittsburgh they’re a finished product,” Mattison said. “I’m not expecting a finished product here, but I’m expecting to lay a strong foundation with our culture and the way we do things, and try and give these guys a good start to their pro career so they can add layers as they go up the system.”
Part of the way he hopes to lay that foundation is not only through fundamentals, but in the team culture and the way his team will play the game.
“I think it’s very important that I set the tone early of the way we do things with the Pirates and try and get them introduced to the speed of the game and everything,” Mattison said.
Mattison said that he prides himself on hard-nosed, exciting baseball — the kind fans like to come out and watch. Under his direction in Morgantown, hard-nosed and aggressive is exactly how he wants his team to play.
“When there’s an opportunity to take an extra 90 in a game when someone misses a cutoff, we’ll take the bag,” Mattison said. “When there’s balls in the dirt or on the turf, we’re going to look to take the extra bag. We’re going to be aggressive and just play the game hard.
“We’ll do it day in and day out. That’s what the fans want to see. They don’t want to see a guy scared to make a mistake or playing passive. They want to see aggressive and guys playing the game hard. I like that style.”
Joining Mattison on the Black Bears’ staff will be pitching coach Tom Filer and hitting coach Jonathan Prieto, both of whom are back after working with the Black Bears in the past.
They’ve let Mattison know what to expect when he leads his team at Monongalia County Ballpark and in the New York-Penn League, and he’s up for the challenge.
“It’s all positive things,” Mattison said. “JP and Files were here last year, and it will be JP’s fourth year here. They’ve pretty much given me all the ins and outs of the league. They said it’s a good league and a good challenge for the players.
“It’s a great to play here. We have good fans, good support staff and good facilities.
“I’m looking foward to it.”
Email Sean McNamara at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @SMcNamaraTWV.