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Filming this little bit of a catchers drill at Mariners camp, I was struck not so much by the actual catching and throwing part, but by some of the interplay and exchanges between the catchers, coach Jeff Datz and manager Eric Wedge.
Watch a bit of it and you can see who feels comfortable taking charge out there, who needs a little work on that and just how the three guys doing the drill relate to one another. The three catchers featured are Mike Zunino, Jesus Montero and Kelly Shoppach, in that order. Just by watching, you can see the stature that Shoppach carries and how the others listen to what he has to say. This is the kind of stuff you don’t get to see looking at boxscores or even watching on TV during the season. Frankly, this is the thing I enjoy most about covering spring training. Getting to show you all the kind of stuff up close that is difficult to understand unless you can watch it up close. Just from being here — without having to be told anything officially — you can see how Shoppach is going to make the team regardless of what his spring stats look like.
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“He’s done a nice job,” Wedge said of Shoppach. “I’ve known him from early on in Cleveland when he was younger. Had him the first couple years when he broke in. It’s been nice to see how far along he’s come. He’s had a leadership personality for us, in particular with the pitchers and the catchers. He does have some presence. He’s a good ballplayer. He’s a winning ballplayer.”
On paper, you’d never imagine that a first round draft pick (No. 3 overall) like Zunino, or a highly-rated young MLB prospect like Montero would give a hoot what a backup like Shoppach has to say. Or even a manager like Wedge who barely played catcher in the majors. But the reality of big league ball is that they do. The reason is that Shoppach has lasted in the majors while Zunino has yet to play a game and Montero is still learning how to play his position at this level. That’s not a knock on the young guys, just reality. They may have talent, but honing it and using it to the best of their abilities is what this is all about and the margin between success and failure is razor thin. In the end, it’s Wedge’s job — regardless of his own prior on-field success as a catcher — to get the most out of his players any way he can and to make them into what they are supposed to be.
My first impressions of Zunino, which you can see in the video, is that he looks really confident out there.
“He’s a complete player,” Wedge said. “Very comfortable in his own skin for a young man. Sometimes it takes men a long time to get there. Sometimes men never get there. I think that he carries himself with confidence but not any complacency. You can tell already he has a great respect for the game. You can tell already he’s a student of the game. I’m very impressed with the way he handles himself catching bullpens and just handling the pitching staff here early on. Fundamentally, he’s been very impressive from both the offensive and defensive side.”
One thing I think this video and others shows is the human side of these guys and just how young the young players are. They’re like the guys you sit in school with in college, compared to the more grown, confident men who have been in the working world for 10 years. Baseball is just like real life in some ways, only with more glamor and bigger paychecks. In the big leagues, nobody cares about your pedigree. Well, they care about it if you help a team win a championship. But on the field and in the clubhouse, it’s about the here and now. Not what people think you’ll do someday, or how many fancy stats you put up in the minors.
Whew! That’s a whole lot to take out of one catching video. In the end, maybe just enjoy the throw to second base made by Montero right at the final part of the video.