The halting steps toward a return to baseball, in the big leagues and at the grassroots level, are facing such complications that we haven’t heard much about an issue raised in informal conversations with fellow hardball fanatics:
“What are we going to do about the catcher?”
Even if maintaining six feet of distance in a grocery store line might be more about providing a margin of confidence than being magical, the major leagues for sure — and perhaps other baseball endeavors — are going to be required to make some gestures toward communal interspacing.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the MLB’s public relations wizards come up with a line of demarcation for a baserunner to lead off first with no throws over.
Good luck trying to distance the catcher. He can perhaps set up three inches farther back in receiving the ball, but the hitter is going to be there, spitting and clawing and exhaling on swings, and the plate umpire — well, we might get him to stop leaning or putting a hand on the catcher’s back, but he has to be close enough to get a good look at the pitch.
The pandemic probably will give Rob Manfred, MLB’s anti-baseball commissioner, a chance to get the electronic strike zone sooner rather than later, but it’s not ready yet, presumably.
We talked with a few catchers and the art of their craft now that all those pandemic movies of recent times seem more like documentaries.
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JOE MAUER, Twins 2004-18, catcher through 2013, three-time AL batting champion as catcher.
“You can’t avoid close proximity as a catcher,” Mauer said. “You’re touching everything — figuratively, as far as being in on every pitch, and literally … baseballs coming from pitchers, fielders and umpires.
“I don’t think catchers are going to want to have a bottle of hand sanitizer taped on them so they take a splash every time they handle a baseball.
“I hope we can figure it out for everyone, and get the players back out there as safely as possible and playing games.”
Mauer became a full-time catcher as a 5-7 freshman at Cretin-Derham Hall High School. He was 6-5 and, having dealt with concussions and other injuries, moved to first base in 2014.
“I loved it; being in the middle of everything,” Mauer said. “You’re catching a game on a night in Texas, it’s 102, and you’re in that gear, but you’re so focused on every pitch that it’s not until after the game, when you sit down at the locker that you say, ‘Man, I’m exhausted.’ ”
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MIKE REDMOND, Twins 2005-09, 13-season big leaguer, now Colorado Rockies bench coach.
The Twins had a fondness for hard-nosed backup catchers to Mauer. Asked to name No. 1 on that list, Mauer said: “Redmond. He was one of those guys that if you knew nothing about him, you still said, ‘Catcher.’ Red Dog played the game all out and rough.”
Redmond was home in Spokane, Wash., and said: “I’ve been thinking about what it’s going to be like when we get back. I know they are going to tell the hitters, ‘No spitting,’ but we’re ballplayers … it’s a habit. I’ve never spit anywhere else in my life, except on a baseball field.
“Catching is a unique position and requires a different mentality. Most catchers will say, ‘Do your best to keep us safe and let’s play.’ ”
Told of Mauer’s accolade, Redmond said: “Joe was the best thing that happened to me as a player. He was so good that when I was in the lineup and not him, I had to raise my game just to give us a chance to win.”
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DAN WILSON, Gophers All-America 1990, 14 years in big leagues; and son ELI WILSON, Gophers (2017-19), now in Pirates organization.
Dan: “Catching instruction in baseball organizations has changed — not for better or worse, just changed. More on pitch framing; less on throwing and blocking pitches.
“You know what I would miss? Contact. I was a hockey goaltender. I didn’t want to give up goals, or runs. I liked trying to block the plate.”
Eli: “I was in the [rookie] Appalachian League for a few weeks last summer and then a month in spring training. So, I have no idea what the plans might be for minor leaguers — no idea if they are going to try to make changes to create distance.
“For us, some techniques have changed, but in the end it’s catching, and you need us to do our thing to play any ballgame.”
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JEREMY MARTINEZ, St. Paul Saints catcher on 2019 championship team, now 25, spent spring training with defending champion Monclova Acereros in the Class AAA Mexican League.
“Truthfully, I haven’t thought about what the virus means to catching,” Martinez said. “I’m just working out every day here in California, hoping we can get the season started, and I get a chance to catch Bartolo Colon.”
Our Bartolo, 47 on May 24, Big Sexy?
“There’s only one,” Martinez said. “Monclova has Bartolo, Rajai Davis, Erick Aybar, Chris Carter, quite a few former big leaguers. I loved the Saints and [manager] George Tsamis, but this was a good opportunity for me.”
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KYLE GREEN, Morristown Morries (1992-present), 13-60 League in Minnesota amateur baseball, excavator/pipe installer by trade.
“I’ve been playing town ball and catching since I was in the eighth grade,” Green said. “I’ll be 44 this summer and I’ll catch until someone tells me I’m done.”
Note: Green is the Morries’ manager, so he’ll have to tell himself.
“I’ve been through everything behind the plate and we can get through this,” Green said. “We made the state tournament for the first time in 30 years last summer. We’re excited. Let’s play ball.’ ”
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