TAMPA, Fla. — Only two positions remain in sports that preserve the spirit of the player/coach – the quarterback and the catcher.
It’s no wonder, then, that third year University of Tampa Spartans backstop Chris Gaffney is also studying to be a doctor.
Listen to him talk about the nuances of the position it’s easy to see how so many receivers become managers once their playing days are over.
“As a catcher, first off, you’re the only player in foul territory,” said Gaffney, prior to Wednesday’s game against Catawba. “Your entire team is looking at you to manage the baseball game, to give directions for certain types of plays and certain types of bunts.”
Gaffney believes catchers occupy an advantageous spot on the field, allowing them to make critical observations that other players aren’t able to see.
“They make great pitching coaches because they see the mechanics from the first step to the last step,” he said just before batting practice. “They see the hitter at the plate and how their mechanics work.
“As a catcher you see everyone in front of you and you have to make on-the-fly judgements.”
Another commonality between quarterback and catcher is the fearlessness required to play the position, a trait Gaffney has had ever since he was a child.
“I started catching when I was four years old. My dad threw me behind the plate. I was the only kid who wasn’t afraid of the baseball back then.”
Gaffney is coming off Tommy John surgery in the offseason, repairing an elbow injury that hampered him for much of last season.
He says he feels better now than he has in a long time, and expects to return to, or even surpass, the form that saw him hit .368 with an on-base percentage of .443 in his first season with the Spartans.
“This is the first time in four years that my arm hasn’t hurt throwing a baseball. This year I’m going to have the whip and the strength behind my swing again, which is really nice to have.”
Spartans Manager Joe Urso sees Gaffney as a stabilizing presence for his team’s young starters.
“They love throwing to him. He knows our expectations of our pitching staff and how we like to pitch guys.”
Gaffney has one more common catcher’s quality that no injury can derail: a passion for the game that will last a lifetime.
“If baseball provides a chance for me to stay in it as long as I possibly can and provide for my family, I would love to do that.”