BREWSTER – It can be challenging for Cape League players and coaches to build relationships because every team experiences so much turnover throughout the summer.
Some players arrive late from college teams that advanced far in the NCAA tournament, while other players leave early to join USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, to prepare for the MLB Draft, or to take some extra rest before school restarts in the fall.
Regardless of the reasons behind the timing of when players come and go, the constant shuffling of lineups can make it tricky for players to familiarize themselves with each other.
It’s an especially difficult process for Cape League catchers, who are often tasked with learning each pitcher’s collection of pitches and their tendencies on the fly. In most cases, the batterymates don’t have much time to hash out many details before games begin.
“It’s always interesting learning your pitchers because the first time you meet half of them is shaking their hand on the mound and then you’re going to catch them,” said Chase Adkison, a first-year Brewster catcher from Oklahoma State.
Kurtis Byrne, a second-year Brewster catcher from Texas Christian University, recently went through a quick introduction process with Liam Simon, a hard-throwing righty from Notre Dame who joined the Whitecaps two days prior to starting the team’s 6-4 loss to Orleans on June 30.
“I hadn’t even played catch with him,” Byrne said.
“Simon was up around 98 or 99 [mph] and Kurtis never caught him before he was live in the game or warming up before the game,” Brewster’s first-year pitching coach Jason Rathbun said after Simon’s debut.
Although Byrne said there are many examples of catching a pitcher shortly after meeting him, some first encounters stand out more than others.
“I remember guys coming in the game that I had literally met five minutes ago or I didn’t even meet him,” Byrne said. “You’re like, ‘Hey, what’s going on? I’m Kurtis.’ It’s interesting.”
Brewster is utilizing new technology to simplify communications between Rathbun and the team’s pitchers and catchers. This summer marks the first season that the Whitecaps have used radio devices to call in pitches to catchers, a trend that has become commonplace around Division 1 college programs.
The catchers wear earpieces that receive radio communication from Rathbun inside the dugout and then they relay Rathbun’s pitch call to the pitchers with a hand signal.
“At the junior college I coach at, we started using it this year,” said Rathbun, who is head coach at Herkimer College in New York. “It’s something that I had never really done on a pitch-by-pitch basis. We always had signals for certain pitches, but with the communication it allowed us to kind of work that a little bit.”
Byrne and Adkison said their teams use the earpiece technology to call pitches in the Big 12 Conference, and both catchers said they feel like it helps improve the pace of play and limits sign-stealing – two of the driving factors behind Major League Baseball’s decision to approve electric communication devices this season.
It also gives the catchers confidence that they are putting the pitchers in a good position to succeed because Rathbun is much more familiar with the pitchers and their strengths.
“I have notes on every pitcher, so instead of putting that load on our catchers and trying to have them overthink things with maybe not even getting the chance to catch a bullpen before they’re in a game, it just allows me to kind of let them know what the pitcher has and what they’re working with,” Rathbun said. “That way they’re a little better prepared for maybe their first time catching them live in a game, which can be difficult.”
Byrne said the new pitch-calling process has been really beneficial.
“It’s good from a communication standpoint and understanding how we’re trying to go about a hitter and where I need to set up,” he said.
The Oklahoma State catcher said Rathbun fills his ear with more than just pitch directions.
“[He gives] words of wisdom, he’ll say a couple jokes here or there and then sometimes he’ll tell me something to say to the pitcher if I need to call time here or there,” Byrne said. “He can use me without taking a mound visit, so he can tell me something to say.”
As much as Brewster’s catchers are enjoying the new technology and how it has helped them grow closer with Rathbun and the pitching staff, Byrne said he’d enjoy the catchers having the ability to talk back to an earpiece in the dugout.
“I wish,” he said. “That’ll be the next thing. That would be funny.”
Email Brad Joyal at firstname.lastname@example.org.