The position of catcher is not easy on the body.
Players take their lumps with foul tips, flung bats and plays at home plate with a base runner charging toward them. And, of course, there’s the squatting catchers must do, keeping their knees bent with torso low to the ground to receive pitches.
But sometimes, the hardest part of being a catcher has nothing to do with blocking a ball in the dirt, throwing out a runner trying to steal a base or catching a foul ball.
It’s the mental side of the game.
Catchers have to be leaders — and sometimes, psychologists for their teammates on the mound.
“The toughest thing about catching is the pitchers,” Lakewood senior catcher Casey O’Neill said. “Everyone is different and you have to handle each one differently. Oh, for sure, you have to be a psychologist.
“Some guys, you have to go out there and tell them jokes, some guys you have to tell them they’re all right, and some guys you have to go out there and tell them straight that they are (playing poorly).”
Mountain Vista coach Ron Quintana, a former catcher, said catchers need to be intelligent and able to immerse themselves in the game.
“For any catcher, whether it’s high school or college, you are always looking for someone who is going to be a leader, very vocal,” he said. “So you are looking for someone who can make good choices and good decisions.”
Heritage senior Casey Opitz, who has signed to play at the University of Arkansas, is one of the area’s top catchers. But even he says controlling what others do on the diamond is often difficult.
“You pretty much have to know where everybody has to go before they do,” he said. “That’s the hardest part. When it gets to the seventh inning, runner on third, blocking the ball is just instinct stuff, stuff you work on. But the mental stuff is probably the hardest part.”
Some high school catchers can call which pitches the player on the mound throws — and Opitz is one of them.
“It’s basically a mind game, “ Opitz said. “You play chess with the hitter. You have to know what pitches are working for that pitcher that day, you’ve got to know what the hitter is not seeing well, and kind of mixing those two. Then when he comes up the second time, he’ll kind of be guessing a little bit because of what he saw the first at-bat, then you have to throw the opposite of what he’s thinking.”
Optiz’s teammate, standout junior pitcher Riley Egloff, appreciates the input from his catcher.
“I love when a catcher comes up to you and knocks some sense into you or tells you that you need to get your head straight,” Egloff said. “Once there is someone to come out and calm you down, it’s great.”
Northglenn coach Cameron Tallman pitched at the University of Northern Colorado and also knows the value of a good catcher.
“You have to have trust in your catcher to throw the right pitch, do the right things and be able to throw a ball in the dirt and be comfortable and trust that he will block the ball,” he said.
Westminster’s Miguel Palos, one of the top catchers in the East Metro League, said it’s important to be able to calm a pitcher down and tell him to throw strikes.
That just comes with the terrain behind home plate.
“You are part of the whole game,” Palos said. “You’re the leader of the whole game.”
The ultimate impact of a top-notch catcher can often be seen in a pitcher’s statistics, Heritage coach Scott Hormann said.
“A great catcher,” he said, “makes a mediocre pitcher great.”