March 10, 2011
BERKELEY - In addition to giving pitchers a target, catchers play an integral role in the success of a softball team. They offer counsel to the pitchers, often acting as a psychologist, can call pitches, serve as a vocal leader for the rest of the defense and, of course, protect the plate from approaching invaders. It can often be a thankless job in which they are left sore from squatting for hours, covered in dust and bruises, dealing with opposing batters, but it is a crucial one. CalBears.com grabbed some time with the catchers on the No. 14 California softball team to find out more about life behind the dish.
CalBears.com: How much, if any, dialogue do you have with the umpire?
Amy Bishop: Aside from an occasional comment about the weather or how an umpire's day is going, I'm not much of a talker with umpires.
Victoria Jones: I usually talk to the umpire a lot during a game, so I can get a feel what his strike zone is and where our pitchers should place the ball.
Taylor Vincent: I have a lot of conversation with the umpire because normally if they like you, they are more likely to give you the close call.
Lindsey Ziegenhirt: I usually talk about whatever. If something funny happens, then I make a joke about it and get them smiling. It's always a plus when the umpire is friendly! It makes the game flow better.
CalBears.com: What's the best, worst or funniest thing a hitter or ump has ever said to you?
AB: We had an umpire one time that kept making questionable calls and coaches from both teams were yelling at him all game. I finally asked him, "Pretty stressful job, huh?" and he responded "I've been doing this [insert swear word here] for 30 years. It's not that bad." I thought it was hilarious that the guy had people screaming in both ears, yet he still didn't think the job was "that bad."
VJ: A hitter once asked me if I read the book "Lord of the Flies" when her coach called time out to talk to the umpire. I was shocked!
TV: The funniest thing an umpire has ever told me was a joke about when it was time for an umpire to retire. The joke goes that an umpire goes down in his crouch, the pitch comes and hits the catcher's glove. The umpire just stands there, until the catcher turns around and asks, "What was the call?" The umpire's response is, "What pitch?"
LZ: An umpire actually yelled at me for holding the glove too long in the strike zone. He missed the call and must have been upset that I basically called him out on it.
CalBears.com: How much, if any, dialogue do you have the batters?
The most dialogue I've ever had with a batter was just last week when we had to stop the game because it was starting to rain pretty hard. She asked if it rains here often. I said yes. I'm not much of a talker.
I usually do not have a conversation with the batters. Well, unless they are my friends, then I will talk to them.
I don't really have any conversation with the batter unless I know them personally. In that case, I only say hi, and don't really converse about the game. I am not a big fan of trash talking the batters.
Little to none. If they accidentally kick dirt my direction or something, then they apologize but usually not. I do remember having nice conversations with people that I knew before coming to college, but it's usually just a hello and how are you doing.
CalBears.com: What's your favorite pitch to call or catch?
VJ: My favorite pitch to call is the ones that make that specific hitter look like she doesn't know what she is doing.
TV: My favorite pitch to catch is normally whatever a pitcher's go-to pitch is. I like the strike three pitch to end the inning.
LZ: I love catching change-ups. It's like you and the pitcher know a secret that no one else knows. It's really exciting when it works, too.
CalBears.com: How or when did you get started catching?
AB: My freshman year. When I tried out for the team, Coach Ninemire asked if I'd be willing to catch. I would have played any position she had said if it meant a spot on the team.
VJ: I started catching when I was 12-years-old.
TV: I started catching when I first started playing recreational ball, and all the kids switched all the positions. I was the only kid who wanted to catch.
LZ: I was probably seven or eight when I really started catching. Before that, it was squat and then chase the ball to the backstop - not really catching on my part.
CalBears.com: Did you ever thinking about pitching?
AB: I pitched from about nine-years-old to my senior year in high school, but I never gave pitching at the college level a serious thought.
VJ: I pitched when I was younger, but that ended real quick.
TV: I never really thought about being a pitcher because I enjoyed being a catcher. Also, it seemed like everyone else was a pitcher, and I liked to do things outside of the norm.
LZ: Yes, actually. I pitched one game in my life and walked four batters and hit two before I got pulled. But it was a no-hitter!
CalBears.com: What's been the scariest moment behind the plate?
AB: I wouldn't necessarily call this the scariest moment, but at the beginning of this season, I was catching during practice and we were practicing throw-downs to second base. On one pitch, I popped up and my cleat got stuck in my shoelace and I landed flat on my face in front of the entire team and coaching staff. So I'd say my scariest moment behind the plate was the pitch right after that incident.
VJ: When I was younger, there was a force at home, and there was this really big girl coming in. My short stop gave me a high throw that I had to jump for, and the runner took my feet from out under me. I twisted in the air and landed flat on my stomach. I got whiplash from that fall.
TV: My scariest moment behind the plate was in a playoff game, bases loaded with two outs and we were up by two runs. The batter swung, threw the bat back and hit me in the head. I blacked out and the next thing I saw was a runner and the ball coming at me.
LZ: When I was 16, I was playing up in the 18U age division and a girl came charging around third towards home when I already had the ball in my hand. She didn't slide and basically kneed me to the ground. I was knocked out for a few seconds before I rose up my glove with the ball in it. She was out and I started crying and had to be taken out. I get hit a lot by foul balls, but that was the first person to ram into me.
CalBears.com: Do you think your time catching helps you when you hit at all?
AB: Catching definitely helps my hitting because it gets me thinking about a pitcher's sequence. I start to anticipate what she may throw next. It also helps me recognize spins quicker so my tracking has improved.
VJ: Yes, it helps my pitch selection when I am hitting, except most umpires aren't too consistent.
TV: I think that catching helps my hitting because it gives me a good look at the umpire's strike zone.
CalBears.com: What's more satisfying - getting a called third strike or getting an RBI?
AB: I'd say getting an RBI, hands down.
VJ: Personally, I think getting an RBI is more satisfying.
TV: I think that getting an RBI is more satisfying only because my framing is my stronger suit out of the two.
CalBears.com: Do you have any special communication, superstitions or practices with any of the pitchers?
AB: I like to encourage Valerie Arioto by saying "Yeahhhhh Bubba" in a deep man's voice.
VJ: I feel that every catcher should have special communication with each pitcher because each one throws differently and reacts differently, so making everything personal to fit that pitcher is one of the most important parts of being a catcher.
TV: I don't really have any superstitions or practices with the pitchers except giving them a high five after a work-out or inning.
CalBears.com: What's more satisfying - tagging out the runner at home or catching a no-hitter or a shutout?
VJ: In the moment, tagging out a runner at home. But in the course of the game, catching a no-hitter or a shutout because in calling the pitches, you know that you were the mind behind the pitchers fantastic game and they're perfect on hitting their spots in the certain situations.
TV: For me, tagging out a runner at home is more satisfying because collisions at home are my favorite part of being a catcher.
LZ: I'm going to be selfish here and say tagging out the runner. Props to the pitcher for throwing a no-hitter, but that means I just caught the ball all game. When a runner comes home, the rush of bracing for an impact leaves you feeling good after you smack her as hard as you can with your glove!
CalBears.com: What's the best part about being a catcher?
AB: Getting to know our pitchers better.
VJ: Getting to be able to see the entire field and getting the ball every single pitch. I enjoy messing with the batters' heads each at bat.
TV: The best part about being a catcher is that you are involved in every defensive play.
LZ: Being in every play of every game, being the commander of the field and working with the pitcher to strike out the batter.
CalBears.com: What's the worst part about being a catcher?
AB: It's a tie between how awesome my hair looks when I take off the mask and the idea of needing a knee replacement by the time I turn 20.
VJ: The worst part about being a catcher is when a run scores, even though sometimes there's nothing you can do, it still feels like it's your fault. I feel like the plate is mine, and whenever anyone from the other team touches it, I take it personally.
TV: The worst part of being a catcher is getting hit by a foul ball where the gear doesn't protect you. Getting hit in the inner thigh is the worst.
LZ: Squatting for so long, but it gets my legs in shape!