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Going Behind The Scenes With Orioles Catcher Caleb Joseph

June 15, 2017
Many fans know Caleb Joseph as the Orioles' backup catcher who likes to tell jokes and has a great time playing in the major leagues. In reality, Joseph's job is one of the more complex ones in baseball because he never knows when he's playing.

On a recent occasion when he was in the lineup, Joseph agreed to take us inside his day.

Joseph's work day begins when he arrives at the ballpark at about 2 p.m. He'll have something to eat and begin to watch video.

"If I'm catching, I'll watch the video of the starting pitcher tonight versus their team. Don't want to go back too far because guys adjust, they change things," Joseph said.

"I'll watch quite a few at-bats, form a game plan, then look at the scouting reports and see where things line up and where he's had success and what he likes to do and begin to form a game plan on what you want to do that night. Then, I'll watch, not a lot, but a little bit of video on the [opponent's] pitcher, depending on comfort. If I'm facing a guy I've faced numerous times, I won't really watch video."

A detailed watching of video could take Joseph 90 minutes or even more. On May 31, Joseph receives the New York Yankees' lineup from bench coach John Russell at 3:40 p.m. and does a quick mental refresher on the Yankees in the lineup.

At 4 p.m., Joseph goes to the indoor batting cage to work on some offensive drills for 20 minutes, and then 10 minutes later, batting practice begins.

Joseph's most important pregame assignment is the meeting he and the starting pitcher, Kevin Gausman, have with pitching coach Roger McDowell and bullpen coach Alan Mills. That will occur at 6 p.m. for a 7:05 p.m. start.

This is the third game of a three-game series with the Yankees. Before the opening game, there will be an advance meeting with the entire team.

"The whole team goes over the general points of emphasis for each hitter," Joseph said. "You have the blueprint, and then you know it's just customizing that game plan to the pitcher. [Chris] Tillman's going to pitch a little different than Kevin will or, obviously, [left-hander] Wade [Miley] will.

"[Together with McDowell and Mills,] we'll come up with the game plan on certain situations, certain counts, what we want to do with certain guys."

 The pregame meeting takes about 10 minutes, and then it's time for Joseph to put on his work outfit.

"You take your personal routine to get ready," Joseph said. "I go in the training room and get my wrists taped and have an Advil or two, depending on how I feel. I do various band workouts to get the legs loose, maybe a few squats, get the uniform on and then be out, typically 30 minutes before the game, so 6:30, I'll be out in center field waiting for the pitcher."

The Orioles won that final game against the Yankees, 10-4, May 31, as Joseph went 1-for-4 with a run scored.

Joseph came to the Orioles in May 2014 when longtime catcher Matt Wieters suffered a right elbow injury that would lead to Tommy John surgery.

Once Joseph was put on the roster, Wieters didn't catch again until June 2015. Joseph shared the job with Nick Hundley for the rest of 2014, and he began 2015 as the regular catcher. Once Wieters came back, Joseph's role receded. When Wieters signed with the Washington Nationals before this season, Joseph became Welington Castillo's backup.

"When Matt was here, I had a decent idea of when I was going to play, just looking at the schedule," Joseph said. "It didn't take a rocket scientist. When Nick Hundley was here or this year, you don't always know. That decision's completely up to [manager Buck Showalter]."

Earlier in that late-May series against the Yankees -- the first game of three on May 29-- Joseph didn't expect to play.

It was Memorial Day with an unusually early 1:05 p.m. start. He wasn't in the original lineup, but about an hour before game time, center fielder Adam Jones was scratched, and a bevy of changes in the lineup resulted. Castillo was switched to designated hitter, and Joseph would catch right-hander Dylan Bundy.

That meant an extremely short prep time, but because of Joseph's familiarity with the Yankees, it wasn't a major issue.

"Luckily I had Dylan Bundy, hard to throw a wrong pitch with him because they're all really good pitches, and, luckily, I've had quite a few experiences with the Yankees," Joseph said. "I went in there just as soon as I found out. We met -- me, Roger and Dylan and Alan Mills -- and we nailed down a game plan, just tried to execute it, and fortunately we did. That's probably how it was done in the olden days. The thing with catching and the thing with calling the game is you can have all the information you want. There's an instinct factor and there's a gut feeling factor."

Joseph wasn't panicked about the significantly shorter time he had to prepare for the game.

"The longer you're in the big leagues, the more game experiences in-game you have, and I don't love watching other pitchers versus their hitters because they're not our pitchers," Joseph said. "A lot of times they have different stuff, and they have different looks, and the ball comes out differently.

"When you have personal experiences, you're around longer, the video work is condensed. I remember the first year, I felt like I was in [the video room] nonstop just because you have no experience. You're trying to come up with the best game plan because you don't want the pitcher shaking you off every two seconds. You want to be on the same page, but you don't want to lead him down a path that's not successful."

The path Bundy and Joseph traveled that day was a good one. Bundy went seven effective innings, Joseph had a hit, and the Orioles won, 3-2.

Once this season, Joseph had to enter a game when fellow catcher Francisco Pena had a cramp, and he was ready.

"You should have an entire game plan set out the minute you are called upon," Joseph said. "You never know. Something may happen in the second inning. You should have that in your mind, building that, in the advance meeting and then what we do before the game is really going through a fine-tooth comb.

"It makes me feel comfortable when I have the whole routine locked up. I feel comfortable that I'm out there, and you're not behind the plate throwing random fingers down, that you're not guessing back there. You have a game plan set up that in any situation you feel confident in what you're putting down.

"Ultimately, it is a pitcher's decision. He's the one throwing the ball. I don't mind being shook off at all because conviction of a pitch is the right pitch over what the scouting report says. If the pitcher has the utmost conviction with this pitch, it could be the wrong pitch on the report, but it's the right pitch because of the conviction factor. I wholeheartedly believe in that."

Issue 234: June 2017