We’re flying to St. Louis today (Wednesday) and will arrive in time, I hope, for me to have dinner with my little brother, Yadier, the catcher for the Cardinals.
When the Cards were here last week, I took him to lunch before a game at Frutilandia, a Puerto Rican/Cuban restaurant in the Mission. It was great — a little taste of home. And my girlfriend and I had him over to our house for dinner one night, and we fell right into our long-running games of dominoes and poker and giving each other a hard time. (As many of you know, our middle brother, Jose, is also a catcher, for the New York Yankees. We have all somehow managed to win World Series rings. I’ve been told we’re the only trio of brothers in the history of Major League Baseball to do so.)
It’s funny that we all ended up as catchers. I had never caught a pitch in my life before an Angels scout visiting Puerto Rico put me behind the plate and told me to throw to second. The scout had come to check out Jose, not me. But my mother told him he should check me out, too. She didn’t tell him actually. She badgered him. She waved a newspaper clipping in the guy’s
face showing that I had hit about .400 as an outfielder on the team that had won the amateur championship in Puerto Rico that year. Out of politeness or fear – I’m not sure which — he told my mother to have me on the field at 3 and he’d have a look.
When Jose gave me the news, I told him no. “You go have a great career,” I said. “It’s cool. I’m fine.” But Jose insisted.
I finally said OK but told him there was one problem.
I had no baseball shoes. He asked where they were. I took him outside and pointed up. There, dangling from the telephone wire, were my shoes.
A week before the scout arrived, I had tied the shoelaces together and tossed them up there. I had decided to quit baseball. I had played so hard and so well that season, I had done everything I could think to do, and still there was not a bit of interest from a single Major League team. Really, I would have signed for a box of Snickers. I just wanted to play pro ball. But nothing. So that was it, I thought. It was never going to happen. Time to move on.
Then my mother hammers the scout into giving me a tryout. Jose said I could wear his spikes, which I did. But they were two sizes too big. I looked like I was wearing clown shoes.
When the scout saw me warming up with Jose and my father, he liked what he saw in my arm. That’s when he told me to get behind the plate and throw to second. I rocketed the ball.
Three days later, the Angels signed me for $1,000 and sent me to rookie ball in Mesa, Arizona. All I had was a Lance Parris catcher’s mitt from Wal-Mart, which I thought was the greatest thing — until I saw the beautiful leather mitts the pros had. Still, I used the Lance Parrish mitt until the stitching ripped.
My brothers and I talk a lot about catching when we get together, and all of us agree that part of the beauty of the position — part of what we all love about it — is the psychology of managing pitchers.
Well, I’m at AT&T Park and we’re about to board the bus to SFO to catch our flight to St. Louis, so more on the psychology of catching in the next blog. Thanks for checking in.