“The tools of ignorance” — the old cliché about catchers and their shin guards, chest protectors and facemasks — is pulled out to tease the players that dare to don that gear.
Originally, it was, in fact, a catcher who came up with the line, no doubt after a hard day behind the plate, blocking pitches off his shins and chest and who knows where else. Some credit to a guy named Muddy Ruel, who caught for the old Washington Senators back in the 1920s. Others say it was first uttered by Bill Dickey, the Hall of Famer, who was born in Bastrop, La., grew up in Arkansas, graduating from Searcy High School, then went on to star for the New York Yankees. When he started with the Yanks, he was the teammate of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in 1928. When he finished, the centerfielder was Joe DiMaggio. His successor behind the plate was a guy named Yogi Berra.
Of course, it was ironic for Dickey to have said it. Ask any manager and he’ll tell you that every player is supposed to “think” the game, to keep his “head in the game” but nobody more so that his catcher.
Just look at all the catchers who have been successful Major League managers over the years. Just currently, you can point to Bruce Bochy (San Francisco), Ned Yost (Kansas City), Mike Matheny (St. Louis), Clint Hurdle (Pittsburgh), Bob Melvin (Oakland), Joe Girardi (Yankees), Mike Redmond (Miami), Brad Ausmus (Detroit), John Gibbons (Toronto), Mike Scioscia (Angels) and A.J. Hinch (Houston).
With all of that in mind, it’s no surprise that when Bryant Hornets senior catcher Trey Breeding, the son of Sam and Samantha Breeding, signed a letter of intent on Tuesday to continue his education and his baseball career at Arkansas Tech, the talk from his coach was primarily about his baseball I.Q.
“They’re fixing to get one of the smartest guys,” said Bryant coach Kirk Bock. “He can run a club. His mental attributes in the game are very important. He understands counts. He understands what timing to get himself into as it changes. We don’t have to tell him. He changes his approach during an AB (at bat) due to the count or the base-runners. A lot of guys can’t do that but he can.”
Breeding said, he’s always been a catcher. “Ever since we had a catcher after T-ball,” he said.
Asked about his development to the point where he has earned the chance to play in college, Breeding added, “I’ve just tried to focus every year working on getting one part of my game better.
“I feel like the way I can manage the game and the way I know my pitching staff really sets me apart,” he added. “It helps that I’m really, really good friends with all the pitchers here. Something I’m going to have to work on when I go to college getting to know the pitchers. I’ve caught Jason (Hastings) and Blaine (Knight) since I was 7 years old. I know them in and out just as good as they do.
“Coach Bock taught me a lot and Coach (Mark) Cain in years past, just knowing situations, knowing there’s not a set rule for everything, you’ve got to read it,” he noted.
And very few would-be base stealers were successful against him last year as he helped lead the Hornets to their third Class 7A State championship in five years.
“It’s odd — if you get him in between innings, his pop time (on his throws to second) is going to be 2.02, sometimes 2.2 (seconds),” Bock related. “But then his game-time pops are a lot better than his between-inning pops, which is abnormal. Most of the time, people slow down in a game but he doesn’t. So people will watch him and they’ll put a clock on him between innings and they’re not very impressed. But as soon as somebody steals, he jumps down and he throws a dad-gum 1.96.”
“It just seems like when I see them going out of the corner of my eye, my adrenaline gets pumping and just that half a second, it gets me going,” Breeding explained. “I work a lot in practice on getting my mechanics down. I know when I get in a game, my adrenaline will take over and everything will be all right.”
The right-handed hitter got few opportunities at the plate as a sophomore but came through when he did. He had five hits and five runs batted in. As a junior, he became one of the team’s top RBI guys. He hit .309 with 25 hits and 26 batted in. He also had a great eye. His 26 walks were second on the team.
“I got the experience under my belt,” Breeding said of his sophomore season. “I’d never been in that situation before and I just feel like the experience and just confidence, the extra year of practice, and working on what Coach Bock’s trying to teach us. The way I catch kind of carries over to my hitting. I feel like when I’m catching good, that’s why I hit good.”
Looking ahead to Breeding at the college level, Bock said, “He’s going to be able to hit at that level without a doubt.”
Tech is becoming Bryant North. Not only did Breeding sign with the Wonder Boys on Tuesday, so did teammate Jason Hastings. They’ll join former Bryant stars Nathan Rutherford, Marcus Wilson, Korey Thompson and Harrison Dale there.
“I first got introduced there when I went to a camp there and Coach Wynn showed interest in me,” he recounted. “I knew that I wanted to major in engineering and I knew that I wanted to go somewhere that I could play and provide something to the team I went to. So I pretty much narrowed it down to Arkansas Tech. Knowing some guys was definitely a big plus to going there.”
You’d think that signing during the early period would take some pressure off a player before he begins his senior season but Breeding said, “I’ll still have some pressure because I want to keep getting better.”
And his recollections of the 2014 season?
“We went undefeated in Florida, that was great,” he recalled. “Then it just seemed like every game, we had pretty solid games and we didn’t really ever have a down moment. Then we just peaked when we played Fayetteville.”
Resulting in the 10-0 win with Knight on the mound and Breeding behind the plate.
The dogpile has become a tradition for baseball teams that win a championship whether it’s a State title or a College World Series. One after another, players dive on top until everybody’s part of the pile.
The thing is, somebody’s got to be at the bottom.
When the Hornets celebrated their 2014 Class 7A title on Friday, March 21, it was Knight and Breeding that got the pile started and they were the ones that wound up under everyone.
“It hurt for a while,” Breeding recalled on Tuesday.
But the memory did not make him grimace. He was smiling big — smiling big about that moment in the past and smiling big about what lies ahead.