Wayne Mathis is proof you never know what can happen when you go to the ballpark.

Mathis was selling athletic shoes in Dallas and went to Enron Field (now Minute Maid Park) in Houston to watch Butch Huskey, his former teammate in the New York Mets' minor league system.

Mathis was visiting with Huskey after the game when Astros general manager Gerry Hunsicker, who was the Mets' farm director when Mathis was selected in the 53rd round of the 1988 amateur draft, joined the conversation.

Hunsicker inquired whether Mathis had any interest in working in baseball, and before the week was over, the Cuero High School graduate had begun a new career.

"It was a blessing without a doubt," Mathis said. "I was trying for years to get into baseball and he made it happen in less than a week."

Mathis went to scouting school and started a 14-year stint with Major League Baseball's scouting bureau that ended last week when he signed a contract to become a scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Mathis will be responsible for scouting players in the southern parts of Texas and Louisiana when he begins his new job in January.

"The guy working for the Pirates took an opportunity with the (Tampa) Rays as a pro scout so this job came open," Mathis said. "I was at the winter meetings when my boss asked me if I would have any interest in going to work for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The scouting director contacted me, they flew me out there for an interview, which went really well, and they offered me the job."

Mathis is perhaps best known as the quarterback who led the Gobblers to the 1986 Class 3A state final and 1987 state championship.

But he also played baseball at Cuero and was drafted by the Mets during his senior year of high school.

After playing one season of football at Ranger College, Mathis signed with the Mets and played two seasons in the minor leagues before being released.

He went back to Ranger for a season before completing his football career at Angelo State University.

Mathis had attempted to get back into the administrative side of baseball, but was unsuccessful until the meeting with Hunsicker led to his attending scouting school and beginning his scouting career in 2002.

"Each club kind of puts in a pool to pay the expenses and salaries," Mathis said of the scouting bureau. "You turn in all the pertinent information associated with a prospect. All that information is submitted to all 30 clubs. The major league scouting bureau is trying to even the playing field. You have the bigger market clubs who have the ability to go out and do things that other clubs can't do. You bring us in there and we kind of evened out the playing field."

During the 14 years Mathis worked for the scouting bureau - including a majority as the video coordinator for 14 midwestern states - he saw changes in how prospects are discovered.

"When I started it was Legion ball or beating the bushes at high schools and having the proper contacts that got you in the right direction," Mathis said. "But it's so much now a showcase scenario. You've got Perfect Game showcase, we have our own showcase with our Texas scout association, there's USA Baseball and Area Codes, which they have in California every year.

"There's so many major showcases that all these kids go to, which is good for us. Before you had to beat the bushes and chase those guys and now you get to a scenario where you just sit at the ballpark and the Perfect Game is probably going to have the top 100 high school players for next year's draft. You sit there for four days and watch the top players."

Mathis will be responsible for following high school and college players in his territory and developing lists of the top prospects for the Pirates' cross-checkers and scouting directors.

Mathis' life centers on baseball, but he's found his football past is never far behind.

"It's so funny to see the different parts of the country that are familiar with who the Cuero Gobblers are," he said. "I was in New York at Citi Field where the Mets play for the All-Star Game. I was talking to a gentleman and he asked me where I was from. I always say I'm from Victoria and then tell them I'm actually from a small town named Cuero.

"The guy said, 'Cuero. Cuero Gobblers.' I'm in Flushing, N.Y. I said 'How do you know?' He said, 'Robert Strait.' His son went to Baylor when Robert went there and was familiar with Brad Goebel, Trooper Taylor and Adam Arroyo. I was in New York and here we are talking about the Cuero Gobblers."

Mike Forman is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or mforman@vicad.com.

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