Patience at plate pays off for North Central sophomore
Patience has been a virtue for Michael Mateja this season.
A sophomore third baseman for North Central College, Mateja called his first season as a Cardinal “a big learning experience,” in which he had to develop his understanding of the game, particularly when it comes to focusing on getting a hit or at least hitting the ball hard.
“You kind of just put that away, and realize that getting on base, getting the runner over, getting the runner in — whether it be a hit or not — is a lot more important than your batting average or other stats like that,” Mateja told the Will County Gazette.
Even with that focus on team results over personal stats, Mateja has found room to put up some great numbers this season. Through April 28, Mateja ranked in the top five in seven offensive categories in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW), according to the conference website.
Mateja was first in on-base percentage at .489 and tied for first in triples with six; second in batting average at .404; third in stolen bases with 16 and steal attempts with 18; and fourth in slugging percentage at .633 and runs scored with 36.
Mateja, a Bradley-Bourbonnais High School graduate, had a solid freshman season. He batted .350, was tied for third in the CCIW in runs with 41, and stole 18 bases in 20 attempts.
Still, he found ways to change his approach at the plate.
“From last year to this year, I think I know what I'm doing when I step in the box a lot more,” Mateja said.
He said he has learned to not chase pitches because the league tends toward junk-ball pitching, he said. Just knowing when he should hit the ball is evidence of how his mental game has improved. And that's where patience comes in.
“If you see five, six pitches in an at-bat, but you get out, it's still a productive at-bat, you're still working the pitcher, still seeing what they have,” Mateja said.
Friendships have always been a big part of the appeal of the sport to Mateja. He said he still has friends from his baseball beginnings in T-ball when he was about 5 years old.
“The friendships that came along the way and experiences have guided me along the journey so far, “ he said.
As for the future, Mateja is unsure if he will play in a summer league this year, depending on possible elbow surgery. Last year, he played approximately 50 games with the Lombard (Wisconsin) Orioles in the Chicago Suburban League.