One More Year

Tanner Mathis had a choice this week: go fishing or go pro. He chose the lake.

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It wasn't exactly like that. The rising senior outfielder was drafted in the 27th round by the Houston Astros but decided to return to Ole Miss for his final year. Thursday he headed home to southwest Louisiana for a little rest and relaxation.

Mathis was alerted a few minutes prior to hearing his name called that it was likely to happen. When the Astros area scout called him, he told Mathis he'd probably hear his name in a few minutes as the draft continued.

Mathis had to react. And quickly.

"He was like you've got three minutes to decide," Mathis said. "So I called my dad and he said ‘OK.' So I called the guy back and he said ‘You'll be drafted in the next five rounds.' I was sitting there watching the computer, and all of a sudden my name pops up."

He was told to come home and sign the papers, then fly out next week to join an Astros farm team "somewhere," according to Mathis.

But it never felt like he thought it would, even with his "home area" team the one that drafted him. It's only a couple of hours from Mathis' hometown of Lake Charles, La., to Houston, Texas.

It all made so much sense. But then again, it didn't.

"We hung up and I got kind of like a bad taste or a sour taste in my mouth," Mathis said. "I didn't feel good about my decision."

Once again he called his dad and they talked.

"I thought about it and prayed about it," Mathis said. "I called (the area scout) back and said ‘I'm sorry but I can't commit to this. I can't sign. It doesn't feel right. I can't take the money. I want to go back to college and get my degree. I haven't achieved all my team goals. I haven't accomplished all my personal goals.' He told me to sleep on it and call him back in the morning. I called him back in the morning and told him the same thing, that I feel strongly about going back to school. ‘I'm sorry but it feels like what's best.' And that was it."

Mathis said some of it was simply completing the task he started at Ole Miss right out of Barbe High School.

Tanner Mathis

"I definitely say I want to come back and fulfill my obligation (at Ole Miss)," he said. "Everyone wants to play pro baseball. The rounds got later and later, and I got more nervous and antsy. I just said ‘OK I'll take a shot and just go.' But the money wasn't right and I just didn't feel good about the whole situation. I had to back out of it before it was too late. Thankfully I made the right decision."

Mathis is already excited about next season's Rebel team.

"Our offense is going to put up numbers," he said. "We'll be a more balanced offense next season. Pitching depth will be up there. We'll have two of the best pitchers in the country going on Friday and Saturday night (Bobby Wahl, Mike Mayers). They can beat anybody any given day. Brett Huber is coming back. Defense is going to be superb again like it was this year.

"It played a big key into it," he said of wanting to come back to college and finish what he started. "I know we'll be really good again."

Mathis said the team was so close to a Super Regional – one win away – and that it was tough on the players when the season came to an end.

"It was a heartbreaker," he said of back to back season-ending losses to TCU in the College Station Regional. "This is the closest group I've played with. We were in the driver's seat. We just couldn't put another big inning together, one inning or two innings. If we had, we'd been in California right now getting ready to play UCLA rather than talking about the draft."

Mathis had a strong finish to the season, especially offensively in the NCAA Regional. He actually had a solid season throughout and was second in hitting behind Alex Yarbrough at .359. His on-base percentage was .460 to lead the squad. He was 8-for-8 in stolen bases, tops on the team.

"I think I stayed strong as the season went on. I stayed in the weight room, and I actually gained weight during the season," Mathis said. "I was eating better. I felt more fresh at the end of this year than I did last year."

For now, he'll get away from it all for a while.

"I'll be hanging out with my friends from high school and my family. There are a lot of people I want to see. Hanging out with my brother. Playing with my dog," he said. "That's probably it."

Then it's back to Oxford later this month to get ready for another year of school and baseball. But first, there's a little fishing to do.

"And I'm looking forward to that," Mathis said.

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