ROUND ROCK, Texas -- When Matt Kata signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1999, some of his current teammates were in elementary school. Pitcher Martin Perez and third baseman Tommy Mendonca, two of the Rangers' top prospects, were eight and 11 years old, respectively. When Kata made his Major League debut in 2003, they were mere teenagers. Now, they share a clubhouse with Kata, who has spent the last four seasons with Triple-A Round Rock and is among the team's career leaders in virtually every offensive category. "This has been my home for eight years," Kata said. "Coming here when it was Double-A was as close to a big league experience with the atmosphere and the fans. It's far and above every other stadium and experience I had. I knew it was a special place."
Kata, 34, has played in 47 of the team's 72 games, batting .306 with six home runs and 37 RBIs. He has saved his best efforts for when they mean the most. The switch-hitting utility man is hitting .467 with 32 RBIs with runners in scoring position while batting .529 with 18 RBIs in 17 at-bats with runners in scoring position and two outs. "It's not luck or anything because I prepare," Kata said. "My dad would always talk about the difference between Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, with a runner on second, was that Ted Williams' eye was unbelievable so he'd take a walk. Joe DiMaggio just wanted to get those runners in. I always liked the latter approach." It's been nearly three years since Kata has suited up for a big league game. Kata spent most of the 2009 season with the Astros' Triple-A team in Round Rock, but played 40 games in the Major Leagues that year, hitting .200 with five RBIs. More than 4,500 of his 5,201 at-bats as a professional baseball player have come in the Minor Leagues, although Kata still aspires to return to the big leagues. "Just because I'm playing at home doesn't mean this is where I want to be," Kata said. "I wouldn't be putting on the uniform if I was content with playing Triple-A baseball and sleeping in my own bed. All of our goals are the same. We don't want to be here, although it's a great place to be. If your goal is to be here, something's wrong with you." Kata, who signed with the Rangers in 2011, while not satisfied with playing in Triple-A, still takes advantage of the opportunity to be around young players. When he played with the D-backs for much of the 2003-04 seasons, Kata turned to the team's veterans for guidance. Now, he provides advice for his Express teammates. "I'm definitely taking that role of giving that knowledge back," Kata said. "I had the fortune of having really good coaches and some really good teammates who have taught me some unbelievable things. I'm more of a lead by example kind of guy. I pick my spots where I'll offer up something." With the Express, Kata is not an everyday player but his versatility is not wasted. He has played 14 games at second base, 18 at third base, one at shortstop, and eight in the outfield. One of four players with a batting average above .300, Kata wishes he had more chances to contribute, but has made the most of his opportunities. "The situation isn't ideal as far as playing time," Kata admits. "I'd like to be in there every day contributing to some W's. Before I come to the yard, I always have the mindset that I'm coming into the lineup. When I get the opportunity, I believe in my preparation and my routine." Playing close to home and performing well are among the perks for Kata. So, while he strives for one more shot in the big leagues, Kata will continue to make the most of his time as a Minor Leaguer. "To be honest, it's really worked out," Kata said. "When you're a Minor League free agent, you're just looking for an opportunity. ... Now, the Rangers are the best opportunity. It's a good situation."
Christian Corona is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.