Mathis, 5-foot-11, 174-pounds, proved that his first weekend in college. He went 4-for-8 at the plate with three RBI in three games against one of his homestate teams, Louisiana-Monroe. Sunday was his big day. That's when he was 3-for-3 and had two of those runs batted in to help the Rebels win 13-2 and take the series.
"It was a great experience," said the 18-year-old left-handed batter. "I'm not going to lie, it was a little nerve-racking Friday. But once I got that first hit Friday, it was smooth sailing from there."
Especially Sunday. That's when he reached base five times, including two walks. Mathis, twice named a first-team all-stater in Louisiana, said he came up to the plate with the obvious intentions of getting on.
"Coach told us just to stay aggressive at the plate, and that's what I did," he said. "Especially (Sunday), I went up there and told myself he (ULM pitcher) wasn't going to be able to blow it by me. That's what I did."
But telling Mathis to be aggressive at the plate, in the field, or anything that concerns baseball might be wasted breath. He arrives at the ballpark ready to give it all he's got.
"I come out here every day trying to push the envelope," said Mathis, who helped Barbe High win two state titles. "If I can take a bag or stretch a single to a double, I'm going to try. Whatever I can do to get an extra bag or score a run or steal a bag, lay down a bunt, whatever it takes to get on. Just help the team win. That's my objective."
UM assistant coach Matt Mossberg, a former Rebel outfielder who coaches the outfielders now as well as serving the team as hitting coach, said Mathis is simply doing what they thought he would.
"We felt he could come in and contribute immediately as a freshman," Mossberg said. "We felt he was very good defensively. He's lived up to that. The biggest thing about Tanner is his competitive mindset. He's one of those grinders. He doesn't take a pitch off. At the end of the day, that's why he's good and why he had success this past weekend."
Mathis, who helped lead Barbe High to the Nike SPARQ Challenge National Championship in 2008, said he's even more aggressive at the plate than before, and that means starting with the first pitch he sees.
"I've worked on having more gap to gap power," he said, "and also hitting the first pitch fast ball. I remember in high school, I used to take that one all the time. Being a leadoff kind of guy, I was just seeing what the pitcher had. (Here) they told me to be aggressive. If I want to hit that first fast ball, swing. They told me we're not going to say anything if you ground out or whatever. If you think you can hit it, hit it."
Mathis likes the freedom to be able to do that.
"Yeah, definitely," he said. "I took one Friday and then got a 3-2 backdoor curve ball. Sometimes (the first pitch) is the best pitch you see. Why not capitalize on it? You're not supposed to miss it, but if you do, move on and don't worry about it. Worry about the next pitch."
Ole Miss, which hosts another Sun Belt Conference team in Arkansas State (2-0) today at 3 p.m., hit the baseball all over the park against the Warhawks. The Rebels scored 32 runs with 40 hits, which included seven home runs.
Mathis, who played right field and center field as well as pitched in high school, said that this team can hit is no surprise to him.
"I knew we were going to be a good offense," he said. "Coach Mossberg has really worked hard with us, having goals set, learning your role, not having to do everything. It's a team. This is the best offense I've ever played for."
Mathis, also recruited by LSU, Texas A&M, Tulane, and Southeastern Louisiana, was in left field during the first weekend. He says he's already hearing fans call his name out in the terraces, which he likes since it's the home crowd.
And he's enjoying the new outfield padding that's been in place for a couple of weeks, covering up the old metal dented wall that's been there for years.
"I didn't really have a problem with it," he said. "If you've got to run into the wall, you've got to run into the wall. But I think the padding helps us not be as timid. We can go full speed into it."
Not that anyone would expect any less from Mathis.
"Tanner," Mossberg said, "trusts in his own abilities. He's mature beyond his years and he understands what's going on around him. He's a quick learner and has a short memory. He was good before he got here, but he's made a ton of progress since he got here."
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