Iowa's Calvin Mathews brought to tears after final start
OMAHA, Neb. — Tears choking back his answer, Calvin Mathews was able to muster one word about whether his pitching career was over.
The senior from Bloomfield gave hundreds of hours of his life during four years as an Iowa Hawkeye, just so he could get on the field. Despite a torn labrum he suffered as a freshman in his right (throwing) shoulder, he still has battled through intense pain and even found a way to be effective.
And he got the ball one last time Sunday. About 90 minutes before the Big Ten Conference championship game, pitching coach Scott Brickman asked Mathews if he could go. Mathews didn't hesitate in accepting.
“After what Calvin has done,” head coach Rick Heller said, “if he wanted the ball, he was going to get the ball.”
Knowing this game would be played in front of 10,000 fans, Heller added this of settling on Mathews, who came in with a 6.29 ERA: “He might’ve gotten hit. But I knew he wasn’t going to choke.”
And although Iowa would go on to lose 8-7 to Ohio State, Mathews’ performance is one that those who understand his story will never forget.
Mathews faced nine Buckeye batters, and he got nine outs — allowing only a leadoff single that was erased by a double play. But during the third inning, his shoulder popped again — something that happens now and then — and Heller knew it.
Heller yelled at Mathews to come out. The stubborn senior shook him off and stayed on the field. He buckled down to strike out Tre’ Gantt to end the third inning. Gantt is the last batter Mathews will ever face.
“He was basically crying in the dugout it hurt so bad,” Heller said. “He couldn’t go back out.”
Mathews was a second-team all-Big Ten pick as a junior. This year, the pain worsened, and rehab was a struggle.
"This year," Heller said, "he just kind of ran out of bullets."
Still, Mathews gave Iowa 3⅔ scoreless innings on senior day a few weeks ago in a must-win game against Michigan State that helped his team get here as the eighth and final seed.
He gave Iowa three gutty, scoreless innings Sunday.
“Calvin’s a big-leaguer up here," Heller said, pointing to his head. "Had he not gotten hurt, I really believe he would’ve been.”
And in the interview room, the tears poured out. Mathews knew his trying journey was over.
“It’s definitely been a grind,” Mathews said, pausing and putting his head down to try to collect himself. “Going to therapy every day, showing up on the field. It hasn’t been easy. But it was all worth it in the end.”