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How Important is the Pitcher-Catcher Relationship?

Every team sport has an on-field leader, someone to keep the players focused and direct the plays. A quarterback is the field general in a football offense. In basketball, the point guard is typically the floor leader.

The relationship between a pitcher and his catcher is widely considered to be the foundation on which a successful baseball team is built. Few catchers know this better than Matt Walbeck, who played for five major league teams over 11 seasons.

“They call it a battery for a reason,” said Walbeck, who runs the Walbeck Baseball Academy in Rancho Cordova, California. “It can take you to a real state of boredom, or a sense of pure ease and effortlessness with balls going right to a defender.”

Walbeck first began catching for his father’s team at age 8. While going through the equipment bag his dad had brought home, he tried on the catching gear, and it was a perfect fit.

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But It didn’t take him long to discover the position involved much more than special equipment or catching the ball and throwing it back to the pitcher. As a battery mate to his cousin Robbie, a flame-throwing lefthander, Walbeck immediately recognized the boy had no control over where the ball was going. He also had a sharp temper, constantly throwing tantrums on the mound.

“His energy was skyrocketing, he’d be super-amped, and the ball would go to the backstop,” Walbeck recalled. “Looking back, it was an amazing experience for me to cut my teeth at that position.”

soIn order to successfully create a solid bond, each battery mate should get to know what makes the other tick. The best way to do this, Walbeck says, is to spend as much time with him as possible, both on and off the field. Before a game, warm up and have a short meeting to go over all signs. Sit next to each other between innings to share thoughts on the opposing hitters. Spend time together on the car or bus ride to and from games. Go to a movie or other fun activity away from the field.

“So much of the game is out of our control as a battery,” Walbeck explained. “You can’t control the umpire. You can’t control your defense. So, we bond. I could sense how my pitcher was doing just by how he was breathing, looking at his eyes, listening to things he would say.”

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Building such trust allows the pitcher to concentrate on his main job: getting batters out. A catcher will develop instincts on the proper time to make a mound visit, when he should get in the pitcher's face as opposed to backing off, or when to throw a ball back especially hard to get his attention.

What if chemistry doesn’t develop, or you’re simply not a good fit for each other?

Walbeck believes building trust starts with the catcher. The pitcher’s job is challenging enough without having to wonder if his teammate behind the plate has his back. Be flexible. Don’t be intimidated by a pitcher, or offended if he prefers another catcher over you. To gain a pitcher’s trust, Walbeck says a catcher must prove he has the tools and confidence to handle even the most difficult pitch.

“If you’re not a good receiver for these guys, they don’t want you,” he said. “You can be the nicest guy in the world, but if you can’t catch a cold, you’re not going to be back there.”

For Walbeck, the relationship between pitcher and catcher is like no other in sports.

“You can talk to just about any catcher, and he’ll tell you there’s nothing greater than that feeling of being connected with a pitcher, and having him trust you so much that no matter what you put down, he’s going to throw with conviction,” he said.

From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr.

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