The curious case of Yadier Molina and other catchers

Somehow, a baseball got stuck to the chest protector of St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina on Thursday night. In the top of the seventh inning, Molina blocked a routine third strike in the dirt off his chest protector, but rather than the ball bouncing out in front of him as it should, it stuck to his chest protector like Velcro. After seeing this oddity, I got thinking about other weird things that happen to catchers.

As a catcher, I spent far many rain delays in the dugout with my teammates trying to cram a baseball into the opening of my catcher’s mask to see if it could be done. We tried everything from standing on the mask and ball to hammering the ball with a bat, but we could never get the ball stuck in the mask. Naturally, I didn’t think it was possible. I stand corrected. Enter Washington Nationals catcher Jose Lobaton. In June of 2014, Lobaton took a foul ball off the bat of Milwaukee Brewer Carlos Gomez and the ball got wedged in the front of his mask.

I always hated wearing the hockey-style catcher’s mask. It didn’t feel secure enough on my head so it felt like it rattled around on foul balls and I preferred the weight of the two-piece mask and helmet. Ultimately, every foul ball to the hockey mask felt like it was going to have the same result as Texas A&M catcher Michael Barash against TCU in June of 2016. Barash took a foul ball off the top of the helmet and it shattered. I’m surprised that doesn’t happen more often with those setups.

The great Yogi Berra said, “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.” I’m inclined to agree. I’m sure current Toronto Blue Jay Jarrod Saltalamacchia does, too. When Saltalamacchia was in the Texas Rangers organization playing for the Triple-A Oklahoma City Redhawks, he got a case of the yips and couldn’t throw the ball back to the pitcher. It took tapping the ball in his glove twice before each throw to get it right again. This reminds me of Rube Baker from Major League II, the rookie catcher who always overthrew the pitcher until he started reciting Playboy model bios. Hey, whatever it takes to cure the yips, right? (Baker’s best line from the movie comes when he makes the Opening Day roster. “Hey, Cerrano! I’m on the rooster!”)

A lot of weird things happen in the game of baseball, you just have to keep your eye out for them. With the amount of chaos that’s going on behind the plate, catchers are involved with much of the weird.

Feature photo by Brigham Berthold

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