Frierson bringing Mathewson back home

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Jul. 31—History will tell you that, in October 1925, Christy Mathewson died. That's nine years after he won the last of his legendary 373 major league games, and it'd be 11 more before he'd be immortalized in Cooperstown as a charter member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

But over the last 40 years, Mathewson and Eddie Frierson have become quite close. A dear friend, Frierson insists, if that type of relationship is even possible between two men from impossibly different places and times, who never so much as met.

It's a symbiotic association, really, between one man who can really tell a story and a legend whose story has never stopped being relevant in changing times.

Since 1987, "Matty: An Evening with Christy Mathewson" — a one-man play that Frierson researched, wrote and performs — has dazzled baseball fans nationwide not just with tales of Mathewson's dominance of the game in the early 1900s, but Mathewson's approach to life in first person. For the first time in more than a decade, though, "Matty" is coming home.

Frierson will perform his award-winning show Aug. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Keystone College's Brooks Theater to kick off the 26th annual Christy Mathewson Day festival in Matty's hometown of Factoryville. There is no charge to see the performance, which will be held on Mathewson's 142nd birthday.

"It's always a joy to come back," Frierson, 62, said from his home in California last week. "It's one of those things where I would never have expected any place to embrace me so much. It's like I'm an adopted son of Factoryville."

The festival is a true small-town, community celebration. The Keystone College football team will host an ice cream social leading into the "Matty" presentation, and festivities will continue into Aug. 13, with a 4 p.m. parade down College Avenue, and food, drink and music available at the Christy Mathewson Celebration at Creekside Park from 5 to 10 p.m. There will be basket raffles, and even a pie auction at the Factoryville United Methodist Church at 7:45.

For those who want not just to celebrate a hometown legend, but learn more about Mathewson's ways and a bygone era of the game that he came to define, Frierson as "Matty" is a must-see.

The production has taken Frierson and the show Off-Broadway. He has played for baseball dignitaries from coast to coast, even performing a series of shows at the Hall of Fame. But the idea to do a performance like this didn't start with any particular affinity for Christy Mathewson on Frierson's part.

Even though, like Mathewson, Frierson was a 6-foot-1, right-handed pitcher, one good enough to lead his high school team in Nashville to a Tennessee state championship and earn a scholarship to pitch at UCLA, he gave up baseball to pursue his dream on the stage and screen.

By 1984, he was looking for a subject about whom to craft a play, someone worthy of a stage performance. As he packed for a flight to a family wedding in Florida, he hastily — as if only on a whim — brought along a dusty, decades-old book his father found two years earlier in an antique shop.

It was "Pitching in a Pinch: Or, Base Ball from the Inside," Mathewson's 1912 memoir. Frierson took his seat, picked up that book and, meaningfully, hasn't put it down since.

He found his muse with every page turn. So when he arrived back in Nashville, he packed his beat-up Dodge Colt and headed toward where it all began for Christy Mathewson.

He stopped in Lewisburg, where he walked around Mathewson's old college stomping grounds at Bucknell. That, Frierson says, was the first and last hotel room he ever paid for on his quest. Because once he got to places like Factoryville, nobody would dream of having him pay to learn more about the great man. He heard stories about his dignity, his thirst for knowledge, his gentlemanly approach to a game that, then, had a more brutish reputation.

He found a writer dogged enough in his quest for the truth that he was a published journalist. He found a skilled playwright who collaborated on a Broadway stage production, The Girl and the Pennant. He found a member of Bucknell's literary society, and a cornerstone voice in its glee club. He found a world-class checkers champion, and war hero, too.

Frierson has lived his personal dream as an actor. He is an award winning Shakespearean actor on stage, and on the big and small screens, he has provided voices for beloved movies and programs like Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen and Power Rangers. He even had a part as a patron who conned naïve bartender Woody Boyd out of some free beers on a season 6 episode of Cheers.

When he returns Aug. 12, though, we'll get a chance to see him doing what he's most passionate about. Telling a story that had as much relevance in the 2020s as it did at the turn of the 20th century. Telling a story that needs to be told, about a man so deserving of being remembered.

"It was pretty clear, by day two of that trip, Christy Mathewson was much more than I thought he was," Frierson said. "That's when it became not about me at all. It became, it doesn't matter if anybody remembers my name. But, they've definitely got to remember Christy Mathewson."

Contact the writer:

dcollins@timesshamrock.com;

570-348-9125;

@DonnieCollinsTT;

@PennStateTT