Some pitchers use their old high school or college teammates as their catcher during offseason bullpen sessions. Some pitchers throw to their fathers during the winter. Others strap their personal trainers up in catching gear and have them on the receiving end of a few dozen fastballs.
Gio Gonzalez has recruited someone with slightly better credentials to catch his offseason bullpen sessions: former Yankees catcher Jorge Posada.
Gonzalez and Posada have met up each of the last two Tuesdays at the University of Miami baseball field, and Posada, a five-time All-Star and four-time World Series winner, has gone into his crouch behind the plate, ready to catch for the Nationals lefty.
For Gonzalez, it’s been a thrill.
“I think Jorge is a great mentor,” Gonzalez said. “He’s a childhood dream, always dreamt of pitching to Jorge Posada. It’s not that often you get a guy that is more than happy to catch a bullpen for you, especially with four titles. He’s an inspiration, he’s an idol. He’s everything you could possibly think of and more.”
Gonzalez and Posada are represented by the same agency, but they met for the first time by chance earlier this winter when working out at the gym. The two made some small talk and got to know each other a little bit, and then Posada inquired about Gonzalez’s throwing program as he gears up for spring training.
“I remember he asked me, ‘When are you throwing a bullpen?’ ” Gonzalez said. “And I said, ‘Well, I don’t have a guy to catch me, but I’ll find one.’ And he goes, ‘Well, I’d be more than happy to catch you.’
“I thought he was going to say, ‘Oh, I’d love to go see (you throw).’ And he said, ‘No, I’d be happy to catch you.’ I stepped back and I was like, ‘No. Are you serious right now? You messing with me? Because this is for real, I would love for this to happen.’ So he shows up one day with no mask or anything. Just a glove.”
Talk about feeling some pressure not to spike a pitch in the dirt.
“I was literally trying to throw up so I don’t drop one of them down,” Gonzalez said with a smile. “Now in the third bullpen, he says he’ll come in full catching gear and catch my curveball.”
Not only is Gonzalez getting the enjoyment factor out of his sessions with Posada, but he’s also absorbing some new information. Heck, when you’re throwing to a guy who caught more than 1,500 games in the big leagues and played 17 major league seasons, it’s probably pretty tough to not pick up some tricks of the trade or fine-tune your craft a little bit.
“Patience,” Gonzalez said, when asked what he’s learned in his time working with Posada. “You’ve got to learn how to hit your spots, learn how to mix it up. Change signs. There’s things that he teaches you that you sit back and start analyzing. It’s a lot of work as a pitcher. He’s had Hall of Famers in his hands. ...
“You just sit there and listen. How many times are you going to have a four-title guy coming up to you to give you information?”
After his first bullpen session with Posada, Gonzalez posted a picture on Instagram that showed Gonzalez on the rubber and Posada in his crouch. Apparently, that led some to wonder whether Posada, who retired after the 2011 season, is planning on making a return to the game.
“I messed around and took a picture and posted it and he said, ‘Oh, man, now everybody thinks I’m coming back!’” Gonzalez said.
Posada quickly made it clear that won’t be happening.
“Every Tuesday is when he comes back, and then he hangs ‘em up again,” Gonzalez said.
I guess if the Nationals are still trying to add another veteran catcher to compete to be Wilson Ramos’ backup, they’ll have to look elsewhere.
Soon enough, Gonzalez will head to Viera, Fla., and his bullpen sessions will feature Ramos, Jhonatan Solano, Sandy Leon, Chris Snyder or another Nationals catcher on the receiving end of his pitches. But for now, Gonzalez will continue to enjoy his time with Posada, as a friendship grows and a former 21-game winner continues to learn the finer points of the game.
“It almost feels like you’re talking to your big brother,” Gonzalez said. “That’s how it is with Jorge. He keeps it nice and loose. He’s a Latin ballplayer, he speaks Spanish, English. We communicate a lot. He’s just one of those guys you idolize so much that you’re afraid to say something that you don’t want to shatter that friendship. It’s unbelievable. You let him do all the talking.”