Baseball crowds usually erupt in praise for the man on the mound when he executes the right pitches to dominate his opponent in a ballgame.
But about 60 feet away from the spotlight, a catcher modestly squats in the dirt behind home plate, supporting every decision his pitcher makes while enduring the challenges that come with his own position.
The reality of catching requires a strong physique as a primary factor of being successful behind the plate. Junior Michael Cantu and redshirt sophomore Michael McCann currently share the catching duty for the Longhorns and bear common bodily strains as a result of their role.
“Catching is such a physically demanding sport, a physically demanding position,” Cantu said. “Me and (McCann) get hit more than anybody on the field, and we’ve got a lot of bumps and bruises.”
But catching isn’t just physically demanding. A catcher must also maintain intense focus throughout the entire game in order to avoid mental lapses that could negatively impact his team’s performance.
“You have to be locked in on every single pitch,” McCann said. “You’re in every single pitch — if you drop one or make a mistake, that affects all nine guys on the team, so you really have to be focused and locked in every single second of the game.”
Another demand unique to catching is having to adapt to pitching changes later in the game. McCann said finding comfort in the midst of adjusting to the various styles of the Longhorn pitching staff comes as a result of gaining more experience behind the plate.
“Being more comfortable with those transitions comes with time,” McCann said. “At first, I did have problems with that. (When) they’d bring someone out of the bullpen, I’d be like, ‘I haven’t caught this guy in a while. I don’t really know what his stuff is like.’ But now I’ve caught everybody, and I’m more comfortable with it.”
But no matter which pitcher steps onto the mound, Cantu and McCann realize their underlying challenge behind the plate: to build a sense of trust between the pitcher and catcher.
“The key to the game is having that guy on the mound be his best,” McCann said. “Whenever you need to go talk to him, whatever you think needs to be said, have him feel that he’s doing his best and that he can trust you behind the plate.”
Although the odds may be against them as individual catchers, McCann and Cantu have found benefits from entrusting each other as partners. They have even learned to work together during the game in order to help each other make adjustments in-between innings.
“We talk in-between innings every game,” Cantu said. “Every pitch, I’m locked in with him, whether he’s behind the plate or at the plate. … I’m just looking for things that I can help him with, and he does the exact same thing when I’m catching.”
Regardless of any individual challenges that may arise behind the plate, McCann and Cantu will be ready to conquer them as a team. The dynamic duo will have an opportunity to grow even more when the Longhorns host Texas State at UFCU Disch-Falk Field tonight at 6:30.