An Indian in Tennessee.
Matt Kata was born in Avon Lake, under the smokes of Cleveland, but grew up in Mentor. He went to St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland and played both baseball and basketball there. But he was a better at baseball, on both sides of the ball as a matter of fact. What was also there from the beginning, was the Tribe.
Growing up as a kid in Mentor, I had a passion for playing the game of baseball and loved the Tribe. [...] Some of my greatest memories growing up were going to Indians games with my Dad. We would always get to the game early for batting practice and watch the players get ready for the game. Dad and I would start out close to home plate to get an up-close view of the players and then move to the outfield to try and get a home run ball. At our seats, we would eat a hot dog and some peanuts and Dad would tell me which players to watch. - Matt Kata in a 2014 interview with the Indians
After wrapping up his senior year in high school he pretty much hopes to get drafted by a pro team, as he recalls in a 2017 podcast. In Ohio he doesn’t have much exposure and therefore there is not much interest from colleges. However, at one tournament he is pulled aside by a Chicago White Sox scout who talks him about an area code showcase in California. He can stay with an uncle in Los Angeles and plays at that showcase and shortly after some bigger colleges show interest in signing him to a scholarship. He gets drafted by the Twins in the 1996 MLB amateur draft in the 20th round. He is happy and considering the opportunity, but also focused on committing to Vanderbilt that, in those years as he recalls himself, wasn’t much of the powerhouse it is nowadays.
He decides to join Vanderbilt, where he is also a two-way player. In his first year he batted in 52 games, but also pitched 32.1 innings and was the closer for the Commodores, notching 6 saves in the SCC. In his second season he had less success on the mound and in his final and third season he only appeared sporadically as a pitcher. By then, the bat obviously had gotten more attention but he didn’t excel much. In his draft year he mustered an uninspiring 0.828 OPS on a team that went 8-22 in its conference. He didn’t play a prime position, he was a 3B during his entire college career. Those two things combined did not ensure a high draft pick and thus signing bonus.
Back in 1999 I knew I was ready to move on, but probably got caught up more in the draft process than I should have...obviously I wasn’t going to New York in a suit and waiting to be a first rounder...you are at home and ultimately just waiting to be called, me and my mom in the living room and the kitchen just hanging out. I finally got the call from the Diamondbacks and I don’t remember having had any conversations and it kinda came out of the blue. It was a small negotiation and I signed two days later. - Matt Kata on the draft process, in the Podcast “Coffee Time with Byron” in June 2023
Attitude, concentration and effort.
Shortly after his draft he makes the “soft ride” to South Bend, a 5 hour ride from Cleveland. The rough ride cliche of a minor leaguer also applied to Matt Kata, who remembers the small pay check and the daily allowance to cover a couple of meals. But to him it was all part of the process to become a big league player. The biggest adjustment was something else though.
When we lost at St. Ignatius we were pissed. When we lost at Vanderbilt we were upset. Now you lose a game and you’re in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and no one is that pissed or that mad. That was the biggest adjustment. [...] It’s not all just team focus. - Matt Kata on a Podcast in 2017.
The first year and a half of his professional baseball career he plays shortstop in South Bend. His OPS is below .700 those years and with a .933 fielding percentage in his second but first full year, the team decides to move Kata over to 2B.
Whether it is really related or not is perhaps hard to tell, but in his next season in Lancaster, in 2001, the numbers improve. Kata, however, remembers the following season in Double A where he took his game to another level, giving credits to Chip Hale. There, in El Paso, he achieves a .298/.341/.443 batting line, the best performance in his professional career so far.
Come 2003 Kata is at Spring Training and starts the season in AAA in Tucson where he continues with his good but unspectacular batting line. Kata remembers the vibes in Triple A as completely different from Double A. In Tucson it is a mix of prospects, grumpy veterans and others trying to get into the MLB. Kata has his own mindset and tries to stick to that, focusing on things you can control and not on ones you cannot, such as a call-up to the major leagues. His ACE (attitude, concentration and effort) has to keep his mind “healthy”. But when a possible major league debut appears in the rear mirror, it is hard to stay focused, he admits, as evidenced by the memories of his big league call-up on June 14.
The big league team is in Minnesota, we had 6:30 starts in Tucson, and the two previous nights, when I had my routine, the Diamondbacks were already playing because of the time difference, we had the TVs on in the clubhouse...so Tony Womack had gotten hit in the wrist and fell down and you think he had broken something...and it was the first time I got exposed to the politics and business side of baseball, in Triple A, a whole different than Double A. [...] Some guys were saying “it might be you, Kata”, focusing on things you can’t control, so I just didn’t let it play in my mind and focus and play the game. Then the next night he gets hit again and I remember guys started to say the same thing again and now I paused and thought “maybe it is”. The next night you see Junior Spivey trying to beat out a throw and it looked like something happened to his ankle and literally five minutes after that happened the manager Al Pedrique comes over to my locker and says “hey Matt, you are not in the lineup, something happened in Minnesota, we don’t know anything yet, just sit tight”. 5-10 minutes later he calls me to his office and says “you are hopping on a plane tomorrow and heading to Minnesota”. [...] I did not have any clean laundry. [...] I went to the Metrodome and got there right at game time and got to see my locker and shirt with my name on it. And I got number 11, which was like our family number, and didn’t ask for it, so it was really cool. - Matt Kata on a Podcast in 2017. (link shared is the part where he starts to relate all this, in 15 minutes)
He strikes out in his first major league at bat, but knows that Junior Spivey is going to be out for quite a long time. As he recalls, the best part after that first game was knowing that they were gonna play him for a while.
Kata gets his first hit and homerun a couple of days later, in his second major league appearance and first complete game. He runs into a hot streak by the end of June, but by the end of August starts struggling getting on base, and he finishes the season in the MLB with a .257/.315/.420 batting line, nothing bad for a first year.
In 2004 he is part of the opening day roster and makes regular appearances during the months of April and May and plays in Randy Johnson’s perfect game.
I will never forget that night, May 18th 2004. It was a perfect game [...] and I was playing 2B for that game. I got groundballs in the 7th, 8th and 9th...the first out in the 7th, the last in the 8th and the first in the 9th...a lot of it is a blur, because it was such a mentally draining night. Randy to dominate like he did wasn’t new, but there was something different...it was the 6th and you look at the scoreboard and no one was getting on base. I stopped caring about my at bats and when I was on defence my mind and muscles were like “hit it to me” [...] it was so awesome. Robby [Hammock, DBE] was going crazy and getting a smile from Randy and with all the adrenaline, it was great, Randy downplayed it big time though, nothing special, and it was just another night for him. - Matt Kata, in the Podcast “Coffee Time with Byron” in June 2023
However, by mid May his bat starts lagging behind and by the end of the month he is optioned to Tucson and doesn’t appear in the major leagues again that year with Scott Hairston seizing the job at 2B.
Kata returns on the major league roster in 2005 though, again on Opening Day. But his playing time is pretty much over, getting time in pinch hit appearances or getting subbed in at the end of the game. By the beginning of July he is eventually traded to the Phillies.
End of a career.
Matt Kata becomes the return for the Phillies in a trade for Tim Worrell, who needs a change of scenery and would go on to enjoy two good months of pitching in Phoenix. Kata, on the other hand, plays sporadically in Philadelphia and is released by the end of the season. The next 7 years Kata continues to play professional baseball, until the end of the 2012 season, spending most seasons in AAA for several teams, returning to the MLB only in 2007 (Pirates and Rangers) and 2009 (Astros).
When he wraps up his playing career in 2012 he joins the Round Rock front office, the team he has played for his last 3 seasons and where he has lived the past 10 years. However, a couple of social messages with Mark Shapiro via LinkedIn turns into a job offer within the Indians organisation, his childhood team. He becomes the Manager of Youth Baseball Development and Initiatives, a position he holds from 2014 to 2021.
He then returns to Texas again, where his wife originally comes from, and gets a job in banking, the industry he still works in, probably still with the same attitude, concentration and effort that lead him to the major leagues.
Do you remember Matt Kata?
This poll is closed
Yes, I certainly do.
I know he was in that perfect game, but don’t remember much more.
I have no memory of him.