Barajas getting crash course
Club's new catcher feels welcome, eager to learn, teach
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Rod Barajas methodically unpacked the boxes that gathered before his locker, growing seemingly more pleased with each rip of cardboard.The first package contained a catcher's mask, while another a chest protector. A third box housed a few sets of Phillies red shin guards with protection down to the toe. If only they had arrived a day earlier. "I took one off the toe [on Thursday], so I'll wear these," Barajas said. While adjusting to a new team, Barajas has also had to adjust to his first Spring Training in Florida. With Arizona and Texas, the veteran has usually spent these six weeks in Arizona, where he now has a home in Paradise Valley. It can be a jarring experience to move across the country, when he has three dogs, five children and a sixth on the way. Barajas conceded that it's been hard on his wife, Stacie, who brought the couple's children and one of the dogs to camp. "My wife wasn't planning on coming out so early, but she saw how it was affecting the kids," Barajas said. "They're enjoying it so far." His oldest son, Andrew, seems to be enjoying it the most, often running around Bright House Networks Field or shagging fungoes hit by one of Jamie Moyer's children. Meanwhile, Barajas has huddled with pitchers and talked strategy while feeling welcomed. "It's been incredible," he said. "I don't feel alienated and from what I've seen with the arms we have, it couldn't have gone any better. It will be a big challenge to learn the new pitchers." Barajas has learned that Moyer is in control of the pitch selection, while Brett Myers and Cole Hamels take more of a collaborative approach. He's already familiar with Adam Eaton's style, having caught him last season with the Rangers. Freddy Garcia is next on his list. "These guys are different pitchers," Barajas said. "I'm definitely going to have to learn each guy's strengths and weaknesses. What might work for Cole might not work for Jamie. It's a learning process, and that's where I'm going to rely on my teammates and coaches and try to speed up that process. It's about building relationships." Asked where he'll store all the information gained during his six-week crash course, Barajas pointed to his head.
"I'm throwing it all upstairs," he said. "If halfway through Spring Training, I'm not where I should be, then I'll take the next step. But I've never really had a problem working with pitchers. It takes me a couple times to see them and know what they're doing, and we'll work smooth from there."Barajas also doesn't see a problem with the possibility of being one of three catchers, along with Carlos Ruiz and Chris Coste. With Ruiz, he's taking on more of a mentor role, helping to translate from English to Spanish and teaching the rookie about what's most important. "We talked about the main goal of a catcher, and that's controlling the game, working with the pitchers," Barajas said. "That's where your mind has to be. The key is not to get too emotional with your hitting; don't take it back to the field. That's hard for a lot of young guys to do. When I came up, that's what they emphasized. If you do make the third out, don't come into the dugout throwing your helmet, because the pitcher sees that and worries that your head's not going to be there. It's about understanding that [catching] is your No. 1 priority." This is music to pitching coach Rich Dubee's ears. Last week, Dubee held a meeting and stressed how he wants the catchers to take a more aggressive approach to game calling and be the leaders on the field. Veteran Mike Lieberthal sometimes frustrated pitchers by being too passive behind the plate. A self-proclaimed laid-back guy, Barajas said he likes that idea. "I'm a completely different beast on the field," he said. "My wife tells me the same thing. Off the field, I'm passive, but once I get on the field, I take charge and lead. You have to show people that you're intense and locked into the game, that you're fighting for that final goal."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.