March 24, 2005

DON'T CALL THEM THE TOOLS OF IGNORANCE FOR NUTHIN':

A firsthand account of a stint behind the plate (Jim Salisbury, 3/24/05, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Catching Phillies closer Billy Wagner seemed like a good idea until I read the waiver form and saw that five-letter word.

"Death."

Catching the hardest-throwing lefthander on the planet seemed like a good idea until Mick Billmeyer popped his head out of the coaches' room.

"You squatting today?" the Phillies' catching instructor asked.

"Yeah," I said.

"That's great. Thanks, man. I hate catching that guy, and I'm the one who always gets stuck doing it."

Billmeyer told of how bullpen coach Ramon Henderson refused to catch Wagner.

"First time Ramon did it, the ball hit him right here," Billmeyer said, pounding himself on the chest. "We thought Ramon was dead. He won't get back there anymore."

My blood ran cold. Billmeyer said he was just kidding, but still, I wondered what I was getting into.

Hail Mary, full of...

Catching Billy Wagner's bullpen session seemed like a good idea until his second warm-up throw from about 70 feet.

He leaned back calmly, stepped forward easily, and threw. The ball came out of his hand effortlessly. That was the scary part. In half a heartbeat, the ball was on top of me, right at my unmasked face. The mitt went up and the ball branded it with a loud thwack.

Gulp. This guy means business.

But that was OK.

The whole idea of putting on the pads Friday and getting behind the dish for the first time in 20 years was to experience what one of the game's top closers and hardest throwers does on a workday. Sure, there were some good-natured hecklers around the bullpen. But this was no stunt, not for the curious (crazy?) catcher, and definitely not for the perfectionist pitcher.

"I won't cheat you," Wagner promised earlier in the day. "I can't. My job is to be perfect. I need to be perfect. That starts with my work in the bullpen. It doesn't matter who's catching me. I need to get better."

Wagner paused.

"And besides, if I don't think you can do it, I'll throw you out of there."

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 24, 2005 4:44 PM
Comments

"unmasked face"? I've seen little league catcher's noses broken by the pitcher - if he went in without a facemask he's nuts.

Posted by: AWW at March 24, 2005 5:01 PM
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