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The Phillies’ minor-league catcher is part of a painfully tough fraternity

Donny Sands’ road to professional baseball was a difficult one. He was 15 when his father died of a heart attack. A native of Tucson, Arizona, he spent a few months in his 2006 Toyota Camry while his mother flew back and forth to Mexico in search of a job the following year.

The Suns’ determination paid off when they were selected by the Yankees in the eighth round of the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft. He used his $100,000 signing bonus to buy his mother Alma a car and house.

The third baseman batted .309 in the first 55 games of professional baseball in the world’s most famous organization. His time hitting pinto beans with a broomstick in Mexico paid off.

life was good

Then came a nasty curveball from Yankees roving catching instructor Josh Paul and vice president of player development Gary Denbo.

During prospecting camp ahead of spring training in 2016, Paul and Denbaugh “asked” the Suns if they would consider switching positions from third base to catcher.

Strengthened by life’s challenging upbringing, Sons was dedicated to the sport he loved and undaunted. He respected Paul, so he accepted his suggestion and followed his instructions.

The emotional scars of life and his reckless personality allowed Sans to shake off all the physical pain he was trying to endure.

“I’m a very determined person,” he said. “I took it as a challenge to myself. Jorge Posada was there at the time. He was a converted man. [to catcher]. he set [the South Atlantic League] Record of passed balls. I got there and broke it.

The Suns transitioned into 2016 Spring Training and Extended Spring Training. It was painful for the Suns. It was painful for anyone to see.

But the 26-year-old is now a Triple-A catcher for the IronPigs and has been sidelined by injuries, slump, or trades in the majors.

“I owe a lot of my career to Josh Paul,” Sands said. “He saw something there.”

It’s been a tough road for the Suns and other catchers in the Phillies organization. There are daily reminders from foul tips requiring an ice bath or hospital visit.

Despite the pain, they have no regrets.

“Extension [spring], making it one of the worst concussions the Yankees have ever seen,” Suns said. “Then it’s been two months and he’s like, ‘What did you sign up for?

“I used to use a two-piece helmet. I went to get the ball and the hitter fouled it. I almost had to relearn.But I came back and finished the year.Welcome to the catch.”

The Yankees’ first game as catcher for the Suns out of the 2016 extended spring wasn’t all that good. It happened at his field back at his Phillies complex in Clearwater, Florida.

“First there is the man,” he recalled. “I didn’t know how to block the ball. In the dirt he has one. I blocked it with the cup.

“The ball almost rolled to second base.

Rafael Marchand could have been a Suns infielder. He spent formidable years as a shortstop in his native Venezuela until his agent suggested it might be best to become a catcher.

“He thought it would be my best chance to sign a professional contract and hopefully make it to the big leagues,” Marchan said. “I like the decision.”

Four years later, Marchand took the ball out of his facemask due to the worst of several concussions.

A year later, he made his major league debut with the Phillies. Since then he has had his ups and downs with them.

Some of Sands’ tattoos are homages to his mother. Some pay homage to my late father, who started playing catch with me when I was two years old.

Karl Ellison, the third IronPigs catcher, started catching when he was 11 or 12 years old.

The 27-year-old from Cincinnati was excited to follow in his brother’s footsteps. Ellison held positions in high school and college.

“I’m mad enough to have fun [catching]’ said Ellison. “It’s always been for me. It’s a catcher’s pride to get hit. Let’s see how quickly I can get back in the game so no one realizes I got hit.”

“When I first started blocking the ball from the machine, I was used to getting ground balls. I took one index finger off and broke it. That was the last time.”

Double-A Reading catcher Vito Fricia first donned catcher’s gear when he was five years old, but it wasn’t until his high school coach decided he could give it another try that there would be an easier path to the college ball. Didn’t wear it again.

The 25-year-old from Bethpage, New York, played for Hofstra before being drafted by the Phillies in the 40th round of the 2019 draft.

He snatched the ball from his throwing shoulder, broke a finger or two, and the ball bounced under his mask.

“The outfield machines were hitting us at home plate,” he said. “I jumped over the grass. I think my cup wasn’t right. I missed the cup. It wasn’t very fun.”

Catchers are expected to wear it regardless of where they were hit or the pain.

“It’s funny,” added Frisia.[Close friend and former Reading catcher Logan] If I say hurtful things to you, Ohoppe will piss me off. The worst thing we can do is break the pitcher’s rhythm. The more you think about what hurts in that moment, the more you help other teams.

“It’s not an injury. It only hurts for a moment. The more I think about it, the more it hurts. Just wear it.”

After the Suns survived his first season as a catcher in 2016, Paul offered him another opportunity: to stay at home in the Tampa area and continue training.

Sans didn’t flinch. He spent a few hours each day at the Yankees complex doing defensive work, then a few hours in the weight room.

“I was completely inflexible,” Sands said. “I wore a 40-pound weighted vest in a sitting position receiving balls from the machine. I had it, it was a process.

“as if [Paul] It was Mr. Miyagi karate kidWhen I got home from doing all the work in the complex, he said, ‘My driveway has to be heavily washed.

When the Suns did a lot in catching coach Hector Lavago in 2017, the number of passed balls on A-balls dropped to 25. The two continued working together during the offseason in California where they lived.

By 2018, the Suns were in great shape ready to endure a full season of catching.

“To quote Paul’s thinking in the Catcher’s Handbook, no. [complaining]’ said Sands. “His arm was broken in half, but he finished the inning.

“Then I went straight to the hospital and was out for three months.”

The Suns were added to the Yankees’ 40-man roster after the 2021 season, before being traded to the Phillies for pitcher Nick Nelson.

While he continues to hit, his catch continues to evolve (. 316 going into Saturday’s game).

(April Gummies / The Morning Call)

IronPigs bench coach Greg Brodzinski, who started catching at the age of 10, wore a T-shirt with the Phillies logo and had his spine penetrating the catcher’s mask. It describes the group’s attitude and willingness to accept all the responsibilities and pains that come with that position.

“You have to like catching,” he said. “I joke with them, that’s why you wear your gear. Every day you get beaten there. If you love it, you don’t even think about it.”

“You put it on and you’re right back there. You tell the referee, ‘I’m fine.’ There’s nothing worse than seeing a trainer on the top bunk of a dugout. “Don’t come out here.

Behind all the equipment and accoutrements is a man who must do whatever he can to help pitchers in their most difficult moments.

Sometimes it’s a pad on the back. Sometimes it’s a tough reminder.Sometimes it Bull Durham meeting.

“We had a pitcher this year,” Frisia said. “How do you make peanut butter?”

“He was like, ‘What? Hey, what are you talking about? I told him I’ll be standing here all day until the referee gets me. How do you make peanut butter?'”

“He said, ‘Peanuts.’ I was like, ‘What else? ‘ I think he was more mentally confused than before.” done. He got a grounder for a double play. “

Behind all the equipment and accessories is a man who is almost always in pain radiating from one or more parts of his body.

But I never hear them complain.

What about all the equipment designed to protect them?

“Padding is just for style points,” Sands said.

Wake-up call reporter Tom Housenick at 610-820-6651 or thousenick@mcall.com

The Phillies’ minor-league catcher is part of a painfully tough fraternity

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