This feature on baseball slugger Matt Stairs appeared in the Fredericton (New Brunswick) Daily Gleaner on June 22, 1996.
Hitting is Matt’s Meal Ticket, And Sure Enough …
Stairs Producing At The Dish For A’s Affiliate
By Ed M. Odeven
TUCSON, Ariz. — Matt Stairs has always known hitting was his meal ticket, and now his new teammates are starting to find out why.
“He’s one heck of a hitter,” said Dan Walters, the starting catcher for Stairs’ newest team, the Edmonton Trappers (the Oakland A’s Triple-A affiliate).
“He’s one of the best left-handed hitters I’ve been around,” said Edmonton relief pitcher Todd Williams. “He hits the heck out of the ball. He’s outstanding.”
The Fredericton native has come a long way since his brief, anxiety-ridden major league debut with the Montreal Expos in 1992. Stairs has since seen the majors once again with the Expos in ’93 and then last season with the Boston Red Sox, both times showing his worth as a quality lefty bat.
“I was young my first trip up in ’92. I was scared,” recalled Stairs. “I was intimidated by the fact of being in the big leagues. But when I went up again in ’93 I was fine and did well.
“Last year with Boston I had all the confidence in the world, knowing that I belonged there. And I had a good season (.261 in 39 games).”
His stints in the majors finally landed him on his first major league opening day roster, this season with the Oakland A’s who he signed with as a free agent. But after a slow start in limited duty with the A’s, the 27-year-old outfielder was sent back down to Triple-A.
“I didn’t get a real big chance up there to show what I could do,” said Stairs, who was 3-for-15 with a homer and three RBI in 23 games with Oakland.
Now he’s back in the bushes, once again trying to show the major league brass that he belongs. He is once again tearing up Triple-A pitching, hitting .308 with four homers and 22 RBI in 38 games.
But his detractors still seem to echo the same sentiment as his current manager. “I think he really needs to work on other parts of his game, his defense and his baserunning,” said Edmonton skipper Gary Jones, who has been putting Stairs in the No. 3 and 4 spots in the Trappers’ lineup since he was demoted.
“You get in games where you’re up by six or seven games and you start losing your thought process,” said Stairs. “When that happens I tend to kind of give away at-bats. I just need to keep my concentration all the time.”
What makes it particularly frustrating for Stairs is the fact that he has shown he can be productive on a major league roster. Former Boston teammate and fellow Canadian native Rheal Cormier last season called him, “a great guy to have on your team. He’s just a clutch player.”
But Stairs realizes that he still has to put more time in the minors if he wants that call which doesn’t have a return ticket to Triple-A.
“Right now I’ve got all the patience in the world,” he said. “I’m just coming off some injuries so I’m trying to get back to 100 percent. I feel I belong (in Oakland) right now, but it’s a situation where some of the guys up there are doing well.
“I’ve just got to go down here and prove that I don’t belong in Triple-A. I belong in the big leagues.”
Until Stairs gets the call to the bigs, he continues to leave the same impression with Edmonton as he did in the Montreal and Boston organizations. His laid-back persona and fun-loving persona seems to be his second-most prevalent calling card.
“I think our primary goal is to have fun within the game, but take it serious when you got to take it serious. He does a great job of doing that, loosening guys up,” said Williams. “We are all going to lose, but whatever happens we want to win this thing. Stairs definitely helps the team in that aspect.”
“Matt is crazy,” said his former Boston teammate Lee Tinsley. “He would do stuff that would just make you crack up all the time. We miss having him around.”
Editor’s note: When Stairs retired in 2011, he had played for 12 big league franchises and set the MLB record for career pinch-hit home runs (23).