Toughest game in the game
The position of catcher is not only the most physically demanding spot in baseball, but one of the most grueling in any sport.
If catching 90 mph fastballs, blocking pitches in the dirt or taking the occasional foul ball off the face mask - or worse - isn't enough, the catcher is also the only player runners are allowed to lower their shoulders into and run over at full speed.
Through all of that, the catcher has to manage his pitchers and attempt to throw out would-be base stealers. All of this equates to one thing: Toughness.
“You have to be physically tough and strong, but you have to be mentally tough as well,” said Gold Sox manager Brad Peek.
“Knowing how to call the game and how to control the pitchers is huge. Sometimes you have to pat the pitcher on the back and encourage and other times you have to tear into them and light a fire. If you have the best pitching staff in
the world and you don't have a good catcher, you're in trouble. Luckily, we have two good ones.”
The two catchers that he speaks of are Johnny Norfolk and Matt Kavanaugh.
“Johnny is like having another coach out there,” said Peek. “He works so hard with the young players. He is so unselfish and just a really special individual.”
With Norfolk catching the last two games, he got the day off and Kavanaugh got the start Friday.
“Matt is a really tough kid who has an extremely strong arm,” said Yuba Sutter's manager. “I've seen him play for three years and he has improved every year. He is the model catcher for professional scouts.”
Kavanaugh looked like a model catcher against the NorCal Longhorns. He played the position to perfection, blocking every pitch in the dirt and displaying his strong arm with throws down to second base and lighting quick snaps to first when a runner ventured a little far off the base.
Kavanaugh followed every runner down to first base in case of an errant throw, the way the position is taught but so seldomly played. The Yuba-Sutter backstop did a wonderful job of framing every close pitch that allowed winning pitcher Ryan Zaft to get the majority of the boarder-line calls.
“I love to control the game,” Kavanaugh said. “I love to be in on every single play and getting that connection with the pitchers. If they miss their spots consecutively, I know I need to go calm them down. When we are on the same page good things happen. Catching allows me to feel like I contributed to the game even when my offense isn't there.”
Oh, but he can hit too. After scoring the first run after a walk in the first inning, Kavanaugh came up with the bases loaded and two outs in the fourth and the Gold Sox leading 1-0.
He sent an 0-1 pitch deep to right-center for a bases-clearing double to finish the game with three RBIs.
“I want to contribute whenever I can,” said Kavanaugh. “Anytime I have a chance to knock runs in I want to come through for the team.”
Friday night, he did just that.