Gene Mattingly: ‘I know she’s with us’

Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Southridge baseball head coach Gene Mattingly oversaw the team's practice on Thursday as they prepared for Saturday's state championship game at League Stadium in Huntingburg. The players collectively described coach Mattingly as intense, enthusiastic, intelligent and precise. "He lives baseball," junior Logan Seger said. Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald


HUNTINGBURG — Gene Mattingly is full of sayings. From interesting quotes such as “Be a pig, not a chicken,” to sharing common baseball knowledge such as “You have to score to win, so put a number on the scoreboard,” the Southridge head baseball coach always has something to say — except for two weeks ago following Southridge’s stunning 12-2 rout of North Posey in the Class 2A regional championship game in Austin.

While the Raiders jumped in jubilation around him, Mattingly stood and watched silently. The first-year head coach was speechless, realizing how much he and his team have accomplished throughout the season. And now, two weeks later, they find themselves heading to the school’s first Indiana High School Athletic Association Class 2A state championship baseball game at Victory Field in Indianapolis.

Photo provided
Sports has always played a big role in the Mattingly family’s lives as Ella, left, is involved with basketball, Traci played basketball in college, Gene played baseball in college, Lexi was an avid tennis player and Payton is currently playing college baseball and also is currently playing with the Dubois County Bombers.

The past year and a half hasn’t been easy for Mattingly. On April 20, 2017, his 16-year-old daughter, Lexi, died from a heart condition called myocarditis. The Raiders honored Lexi earlier this season when they hosted “Lexi’s Night” and defeated Forest Park 3-2 at League Stadium. Southridge wore special purple jerseys with Lexi’s name embroidered on the front.

Southridge starting ace Logan Seger makes sure to pay tribute to Lexi whenever possible — including when he’s on the field.

“Not many people know this, but I always write her name in the dirt before every time I pitch or whenever I’m on the mound,” Seger said. “She was a close friend to a lot of us, so yeah, I definitely feel like we’re playing for someone.”

During this postseason journey, the Raiders know they’ve had a little guidance from up above and Gene is reminded of it by small happenings that occur every so often.

“I know she’s with us. It’s been a really tough year and there will always be a hole in my heart, but knowing where she’s at, I know she’s definitely looking down,” Mattingly said. “There have been the little moments in time — I’m not a big fan of the word ‘coincidence,’ I tend to call them ‘God-cidents’ where we see and feel things and know that her presence is with us, albeit in spirit. It’s been a special journey.”

While the journey for Gene at Southridge began in 2007 as a volunteer assistant coach, his jaunt as a head coach began on Sept. 21, 2017, when he was officially announced as Southridge’s new head coach at the Southwest Dubois County School Board meeting.

Gene had a variety of roles under the three head coaches he worked under, from first focusing on defense and middle infield, to eventually morphing into sort of a hitting instructor. But when the opportunity arose to take a head coaching offer, he just couldn’t turn it down.

“I always wanted to eventually be a head coach and after I talked to my wife and kids about it, I thought, ‘If I don’t do it now, I might not get another chance,’” Mattingly said. “I always wanted to be the guy that made the decisions. As an assistant coach, you always give input and respect the fact that your head coach allows you to have input, but at the end of the day someone has to have 51 percent — someone has to make the decision and I always thought that my makeup was okay for making those tough decisions. I’m not saying they’re always right but I kind of always liked that idea.”

Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Southridge players collectively described Mattingly as intense, enthusiastic, intelligent and precise. "He lives baseball," junior Logan Seger said.

One person who always pictured Gene taking over the reins of a baseball team was his baseball teammate at the University of Mobile and Southridge’s current assistant coach, Andy McKeough. McKeough is from Mobile, while Gene came to the university from Vancleave, Mississippi, to play baseball.

Gene and Andy found their way to Dubois County via their wives, as the pair both happened to marry women who were from Holland. Gene’s wife, Traci and Andy’s wife, Amy, both played college basketball at Olney Central College in Illinois before transferring to the University of Mobile.

For the past 25 years or so, the two men have remained close friends and Andy believes their friendship has helped immensely during some tough games.

“I can always kind of call him out and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ when I can tell something’s different,” Andy said. “There’s times during games where I’ll just go up to him and kind of say, ‘Hey, you might want to do this type of stuff,’ just as a suggestion but kind of trying to push my decisions too — it’s been pretty fun.”

Gene added: “Andy knows me very well, probably better than anyone, except for my wife. He can tell by my body language just where I’m at and he can tell where my emotions are. If we were in the big leagues he’d be my bench coach, he’s done a great job of being in our hitters’ ears and walking them through their at-bats and what they may be required to do, he’s been very resourceful.”

Both Andy and Gene have had to spend a little extra time away from their day jobs during the Raiders’ extended postseason run as Andy works at Kimball International and Gene is a financial adviser for German American Bank.

Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Mattingly hit fly balls to the infielders as he oversaw the team's practice on Thursday.

Gene said he’s grateful to have the support of his coworkers to help pick up some of his responsibilities when he’s away on road trips for games and late night practices.

“The people I work with are probably thinking, ‘My gosh, will this season ever end?’” Mattingly joked with a smile on his face. “I have some really good people around me when I’m not there to help pick me up. When I took the job, (German American) was gracious enough to say, ‘Yeah,’ and give me the time to make the commitment that’s required.”

For the Mattingly family, sports have always been a huge part of their way of life. While Gene and Traci both played college sports, their son, Payton, 21, will play baseball at Asbury University next year after starting at Olney Central and is currently playing summer baseball with the Dubois County Bombers in Huntingburg. The couple’s daughters, Lexi and 14-year-old Ella, have both been involved with sports such as tennis and basketball.

While Gene says that he and Traci didn’t necessarily design it that way, it’s not too surprising that the kids have followed in their parents footsteps into the sports world.

“Traci and I told ourselves that we would always let our kids venture into whatever passions they might have and it just happened to gravitate toward sports which didn’t hurt my feelings at all,” Gene said. “Some of our best memories as a family are surrounding some sort of ballpark, basketball court, tennis court or something like that.”

Even though this is only Gene’s first season as a head coach, many of the players looked up to him while he was an assistant. Seger said Gene “was always the first one I went to for advice, even during the offseason.”

While Gene knew Southridge had the talent to make the type of run the Raiders are currently on, did he picture it coming together the way it has?

“I don’t think so, I don’t think it’s possible for me to have scripted it any better than this,” he said. “I thought we had the potential, but realistically, we sat out to do something no other team in Southridge baseball history had ever done and that was to win a regional. Now that we’ve reached that, everything else is gravy.”

More on