The thing about going to a Mariners game these days is that after a while, you just get bored. Fact is, you can only witness so many low-scoring affairs before you want to poke your own eyes out. Still, for lack of better things to do, I frequent Safeco Field in the summertime because a) I enjoy baseball, b) I like to chill on summer evenings, and c) I have the green hydro in my fantasy hydro league.
For the six or seven of you out there who happened to watch Wednesday night’s 4-2 slugfest between the M’s and the Angels, you know how insanely boring that game was. Aside from some good defense by Franklin Gutierrez in center field, there was literally nothing memorable from the contest. At one point, my buddy Chris said to me, “God, this is the type of game you want to go run on the field, just for something to do.” We then spent half an inning contemplating the best places to hop the fence and take off, taking special note of areas where the girthier security guards were stationed.
By the seventh inning, we had found our way down to the bullpen and were prepared to trade barbs with any relievers who might want to get witty with us. Instead, however, the first thing we saw was Angels’ setup man Scot Shields tossing a slew of baseballs to some young Mariner fans in the stands, out of the goodness of his heart. “I can’t heckle that guy,” I said to Chris, “he’s a saint.” To which Chris replied, “Neither can I.” So heckling was out.
If you can’t beat ’em, however, it’s always best to join ’em. And so we did. In fact, I’d say we anti-heckled. Which in turn leads to this dramatic turn in our story.
One of the first things we noticed upon arriving in the vicinity of the pen was that Angels’ bullpen coach Orlando Mercado wore shin guards while doing whatever it is that a bullpen coach usually does. A former catcher with the Mariners back in the ’80s, Mercado was either aptly prepared for a bench-clearing brawl, or hardcore enough to get down and warm-up pitchers in the event that all the other bullpen catchers became stricken by polio or something. Keep in mind that Mercado is 48 years of age and two decades removed from his last big league game. Chris and I both agreed that simply by wearing the gear, Mercado was worthy of our respect. This became good enough reason to talk to the man about unretiring and signing a contract with the M’s.
We yelled our bright idea through the chain-link fence, which went largely ignored by Mercado, himself, but was picked up by some of the players lounging around the area. One such player, a man identified only by the name on the back of his jersey — WILSON — found our bright idea to be semi-intriguing and decided to establish communication lines.
Convinced that he was little more than the Angels’ on-staff bullpen catcher, we attempted to sell Wilson on the prospect of signing with the Mariners once he had been relieved of his bullpen catching duties by the Angels. He could replace the three-headed monster of Adam Moore, Josh Bard, and Rob Johnson. He would become an All-Star. He’d be on our fantasy teams. Seattle was the place he needed to be. We also took the opportunity to mention that his former co-worker, Chone Figgins, looked quite a bit like Donkey from Shrek, which elicited laughter from a handful of Angels in the immediate neighborhood.
At that moment, the bullpen phone rang. It was the top of the ninth inning and the Angels needed their closer to get loose. Wilson put on his mask and started tossing with Fernando Rodney. We hung around to see the hard-throwing right-hander warm up. Then, out of nowhere, Wilson confessed to us that he felt like a crook. We asked why. Because the organization was paying him to play catch in the bullpen. We agreed that he had a pretty cool job. The conversation shifted to general baseball talk.
We asked him about his relationship with Figgins. Wilson flatly acknowledged that the M’s second baseman was a great teammate. When we pressed further, inquiring about Chone’s bad attitude this season, Wilson admitted that Figgins was probably just having a tough time adjusting to a losing environment and had never acted like this in Anaheim. Did Chone want out of Seattle, we asked. Wilson hesitated. He considered the question, then gave a half-hearted, “No.” We didn’t buy it. But you had to appreciate the way Wilson took up for his friend.
Wilson got down into a squat as Rodney began to crank up the dial. In between pitches, we continued our conversation.
“Which pitcher that you’ve caught has the nastiest stuff?” asked Chris. Francisco Rodriguez, said Wilson, citing the slider as the back-breaking clincher.
Chris then asked who Wilson considered to be the better pitcher between Dan Haren and Joe Saunders, two arms that were traded for one another earlier in the year. “Haren has more All-Star appearances,” Wilson quipped. This guy could be a politician.
Just then, a hard hit ball to the right-center field gap sent Gutierrez crashing into the fence for a nice grab. We paused to watch, before Chris proclaimed Guti to be the best outfielder in all of baseball. “What about Torii?” asked Wilson. I rebutted the remark by comparing the formerly-esteemed Torii Hunter to Michael Jordan during his Washington Wizards days. Wilson was stymied. Rodney popped a fastball in the mitt.
I asked Wilson if he had ever taken the Angels’ new center fielder — Peter Bourjos, the reputed fastest player in the game — in a footrace. “Yeah,” he deadpanned. “Running backwards.” All three of us busted up.
The inning ended. Rodney threw his last warm-up toss then headed for the field. As Wilson walked away, Chris mentioned that we needed to get his autograph or something to commemorate our BS-fest with the bullpen catcher. A minute later, Wilson, having overheard us, tossed a ball between a gap in the fence. He had penned his name under the semi-circle. We chuckled.
Three outs later, the game was over. Before taking off, we told Wilson to expect an article on the site. I wrote down the domain name and gave it to him. “Tell your family and friends,” I joked. “You’ll be famous.”
On our way home, Chris and I laughed over the absurdity of obtaining an autograph from the opposing team’s bullpen catcher. If nothing else, it was a pretty amusing story to relive.
Funny thing is, after arriving home to sit down and write this article, I did a quick search to verify the identity of our friend Wilson. As the ballgame was ending, I had asked him for his first name, solely for the purposes of this article. Robert, he had replied. I looked through the Angels’ coaching and training personnel. No Wilsons anywhere to be found. I did a Google search. Nothing. I then took a brief look at the team’s active roster and discovered that Wilson was not, in fact, a bullpen catcher, but a player. Bobby Wilson. Number 46. Catcher. One of three catchers on the team’s roster. I had actually heard of this guy, but hadn’t put two and two together during our chat. Interestingly enough, the guy had been chill enough to put his job into complete perspective, then confide in us with some unique information that you don’t often hear from ballplayers. To say that it’s rare to get that from a professional athlete would be an understatement.
I pulled up Wilson’s stats. For the year, he had posted a .228 average, four home runs, 14 RBI, .704 OPS. Nothing too remarkable. Then I pulled up the stats for the Mariners’ catchers. As it turned out, Wilson’s home run and RBI totals would be tops among Seattle’s catchers, despite his having appeared in just 30 games, fewer than any of the M’s trio. His average and OPS would be second to Bard’s .230 and .708, respectively.
So everything we told the guy — joining the Mariners, becoming an All-Star, being on fantasy rosters — can still come to fruition. Would it hurt to give him a look, M’s? The numbers say no. And face it, the position can’t get much worse for us. Let’s work something out.
Bobby Wilson in 2011? Why the heck not? I mean, how many catchers do you know who can beat you in a footrace? Running backwards.