View to a Thrill
Of the thousands who watched the Home Run Derby this past Monday, no one in Citi Field had a better view than George Carroll, who was directly behind home plate. And I mean directly behind home plate: Carroll was one of two catchers who most people saw all night long and probably never noticed.
Carroll from nearby Bayside, graduated from the New York Institute of Technology before playing in the Blue Jays’ minor league system for two years. After playing a handful of games in the independent Atlantic League this year, he quit to tend to some family business, but then was presented the opportunity to catch not only the home run derby, but also to catch in the bullpen for both the Futures Game and the American League during the All-Star Game. He even got to throw some batting practice as well.
“I got a call from the assistant GM from the Mets and then the guy at Major League Baseball who ran the events operation called up and said ‘Can you do this?’ and I said, ‘No problem . . . absolutely!’” Baseball officials found Carroll’s name when searching through the major league directory for a catcher from the Queens area.
Finding major league players to be “real good people,” Carroll’s outgoing personality no doubt impressed them as well. “I got to talk to Joe Mauer a lot. I was a big fan of his growing up. I got the opportunity to talk to one of my favorite players and I even told him that. I said, ‘Hey man, I grew up watching you. I think you’re phenomenal, man.’ Which was kind of cool.”
As for the Home Run Derby itself, Carroll states that “every time a guy hit a ball, it was just crushed; I just admired them in awe.” Two in particular stood out, however: “the first one that Fielder hit and the last one that Cespedes hit.”
Carroll was equally impressed by the major leagues’ leading home run hitter, Chris Davis with whom Carroll naturally struck up a conversation. During the warm up round Davis hit one into the seats, then turned and remarked to George, “I don’t know how the hell that went out!”
“[Davis] does such a good job staying inside the ball. He’s a phenomenal hitter,”
Carroll agreed that Davis is even bigger than he appears on television, but added that Orioles’ third baseman Manny Machado “is a little guy; he looks bigger on TV than he does in person.”
Catching the American League hurlers as they warmed up gave Carroll a chance to form his own scouting reports. “I warmed up Max Scherzer on the field before the game started. He’s a good guy and he was really pumping it. I caught Chris Sale who’s got a real good slider. I caught [Matt] Moore; he’s got a dirty change up. I caught [Grant] Balfour and he was crazy. He threw about a million miles an hour.”
Carroll also talked to Mariano Rivera while in the bullpen, but did not catch him, deferring to another catcher who was a big Rivera fan and who, like Carroll, had been brought in for such duties. “He wanted it more than I did,” relates Carroll who graciously stepped aside.
The jersey that Carroll wore serves as a souvenir of his experience, although he was hoping for a bit more. “Originally, they said I could keep the glove, but they called me up and said they needed the glove back. I was like, ‘C’mon dude!’”
Long after the jersey has faded and the glove would have become stiff and brittle, George Carroll will always have the memories of playing some ball with major league all-stars.
“It was the greatest experience of my life.”