With jobs at a premium these days, many young professionals are finding themselves learning a new skill to make themselves more valuable in the workplace.
For White Sox utility infielder-turned-emergency catcher Ray Olmedo, that means learning how to block 90-plus mph fastballs in the dirt. It's a skill he's hoping will give him added job security on a first-place team in his inaugural campaign on the South Side.
"That's the point," Olmedo said. "That's why I don't care about anything else, I just want to stay here for a long time."
The 31-year-old had never caught at any level prior to this season. Fans might have noticed him warming up pitchers between innings a few weeks ago after starting catcher A.J. Pierzynski was ejected from a game against Seattle, leaving the Sox with only one available catcher in Tyler Flowers.
Olmedo said it's something he started doing last month at Triple-A Charlotte for one simple reason.
"Nobody [else] wants to do it," he said.
It's something that has endeared him to teammates and coaches.
"He's got good hands; he's just scared if they throw one in the dirt he might not know what to do," Pierzynski said. "Other than that, he'll be fine."
While you'll rarely, if ever, hear a professional athlete admit to being scared, Olmedo said it's only natural to have an inkling of fear when you're crouched and have a hard spherical object hurtling toward you at high speed.
"Sometimes when I'm warming up the pitcher, I'm just thinking [about] how fast the ball is going," Olmedo said. "With all the stuff we put on like the shin guards, I think it's different. I get a little bit scared but I'm gonna have to do it, you know what I mean?"
So what's it like trying to catch a 95 mph fastball or a pitch breaking hard at the last second while crouched behind home plate?
Olmedo said one thing's for sure—it's a lot different than his regular job fielding grounders.
"There's shorter reaction when you're a catcher because you don't know what kind of movement the ball will have," he said. "It's different when you take ground balls on the infield because you have time to see the ball and what happens. I try to do the best I can."
Bench coach Mark Parent, himself a former big league catcher whose 13-year career included a 12-game stint with the Cubs in 1995, said he's impressed with Olmedo's technique, especially given his lack of experience behind the dish.
"He's pretty good out there in between innings," he said. "Some of our guys aren't too easy between innings. Not everybody's like [Jake] Peavy."
"If those guys need me for something, in an emergency or something, I'm gonna be there," Olmedo added. "I'm gonna be ready to do whatever."
Despite his wealth of knowledge and experience on playing the position, Parent said he gave Olmedo only one piece of advice.
"Yeah, 'good luck,'" Parent said.
And while Olmedo's caught on to some of the nuances of the position fairly quickly, Pierzynski said he's not worried about Olmedo affecting his own job security.
"I don't think he wants to [catch full time]," Pierzynski said.
Matt Lindner is a RedEye special contributor.
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