PHOENIX — In a game defined by age and numbers, 30 is not the new 20 in baseball.
At the age of 20, the baseball world was at the fingertips of then-Arizona State catcher Tuffy Gosewisch.
Gosewisch, a former All-State catcher for Eric Kibler at Scottsdale (Ariz.) Horizon High School, was quickly budding into a terrific backstop during his sophomore campaign in 2003. On a Sun Devils squad littered with Major League-ready talent — Dustin Pedroia, Andre Ethier, Travis Buck and Jeff Larish — the Illinois native hit .340 with 41 RBI in 59 games.
Two years later, he led Pat Murphy and Co. to the 2005 College World Series, won the Tempe Regional MVP award and was selected in the 11th round of the draft by the Philadelphia Phillies.
Life was good for Gosewisch.
But in a game defined by age and numbers, the minor leagues can often swallow up a promising player’s early years of adulthood, and sometimes in the process erase the dream of playing in the majors.
That was only partially the case for the former ASU standout.
In his second professional season with the Phillies organization, Gosewisch excelled at the High-A level, hitting nine home runs and 39 RBI in 95 games with the Clearwater Threshers.
Yet somehow, he was moved down a level before the 2007 season.
“That was a long time ago, but it was definitely a low point,” said Gosewisch. “After a real good season in High-A, they sent me back down to Low-A. It was basically because they wanted me to play every day. Whether or not that’s true, I don’t know. They wanted me to help their young pitchers out, but it ended up doing a huge disservice to me.
“I felt like I should have been in a higher level after a good season in High-A, but they didn’t give me that opportunity. It definitely set me back a few years, but I wasn’t going to give up after that.”
Gosewisch slowly made his way up through Philadelphia’s farm system, but over the next four seasons the former Johnny Bench Award semifinalist made the commute between Reading (Double-A) and Lehigh Valley (Triple-A) into a typical occurrence.
A career .238 minor league hitter, Gosewisch did set career-highs in home runs (13) and RBI (66) in 2011, but another year in Double-A Reading meant another year further from his ultimate goal.
“The minor leagues aren’t easy, especially the first four or five years,” said Gosewisch. “It’s very tough. Really, until you reach Triple-A, the thought of reaching the majors doesn’t seem that realistic. I just tried to just put my head down through the whole process.
“You only get one chance to play this game, and my plan was to keep playing until they took my jersey off of me. It’s tough, but I love baseball. If I didn’t love the game, I wouldn’t have kept playing through all of it. But I did, and still do.”
Another organization, the Toronto Blue Jays, noticed his passion for the game and in 2012 made a deadline move to acquire his services from the Phillies for cash considerations.
Ordinarily leaving a familiar situation — one he knew for seven years — would have been a cause for concern, but Gosewisch believed it was the best thing for his career.
“I think that was a big thing for me,” said Gosewisch. “That trade re-energized me. I don’t know if I stay in Philadelphia, if I ever have a chance to come over to the D-backs as a free agent this offseason.”
But as the script played out, that’s exactly what he did.
After hitting .277 in 24 games with Triple-A Las Vegas to close out the 2012 season, the Blue Jays let him hit free agency — a move that propelled the Arizona product to sign with his hometown team.
With plenty of depth at catcher this spring — Miguel Montero, Wil Nieves and Rod Barajas — Gosewisch didn’t have much of a chance to crack the 25-man roster coming out of camp. However, after an All-Star-worthy first half with the Reno Aces, he was the obvious choice to replace Montero (back) when the former All-Star backstop hit the disabled list on August 1.
“Our manager Billy Butler called me into his office after our game [against the Oklahoma City RedHawks] Wednesday night and told me that I was going to be playing less, because the Diamondbacks wanted to see the other catcher play four or five days a week,” said Gosewisch. “I was hoping he was joking when he told me that, but I didn’t really know until he told me that it was because I was getting called up.
“After that, it was pure joy, I don’t how to explain it. I was hugging anyone I could find in the dugout. It was one of the best moments of my life and definitely the best moment of my baseball life.”
Less than 12 hours later, though, that memory paled in comparison to the one he made in the D-backs’ 7-1 loss to the Texas Rangers.
In the eighth inning, Gosewisch lined a single to center off of reliever Neal Cotts for his first career hit.
“I couldn’t have scripted that any better, well, maybe if I hit a walk-off home run,” Gosewisch joked. “It was just a huge weight off my shoulders. I didn’t have to worry about the rest of the games I played on the road trip. But just playing for the D-backs with this group of guys has been awesome.
“Sometimes it’s just surreal. It’s great when we go out for batting practice, stretching or getting ready for the game and there is no one in the stands. I often find myself taking a second to take it all in. I have to remind myself that yes I’m really here but that I have to keep working hard to stay here for as long as possible.”
While he shouldn’t start getting comfortable, for now it looks like Gosewisch — the 102nd ASU player to make it to the Big Leagues — isn’t going anywhere.
With the team still unsure when Montero will return to the lineup, the boy who grew up rooting for the D-backs at Chase Field now has a chance to play a role in the team’s feverish attempt to get back in the National League West pennant race.
It’s a fitting reward for a player who was relentless in his pursuit of a childhood dream — one that required enduring eight-plus minor league seasons with three different organizations.
The way Gosewisch chooses to view it, though, the process was simply a testament to his passion.
“My love of the game never wavered, but my love of the lifestyle did,” said Gosewisch. “The lifestyle is extremely difficult. I’ve been with my wife — who was my girlfriend when I got drafted in 2005 — and being 3,000 miles apart on opposite sides of the country was trying to say the least.
“But if you still love the game, you keep playing it for as long as you can, whether it’s in the minors or the majors. Once you’re on the field and the game starts, it’s the same game between the lines no matter where you are. It’s 90 feet to the bases and 60 feet to home plate. If you love the game, you realize that and try to enjoy the journey.”
It seems even in a game defined by age and numbers, there’s always room for alterations. Just ask Tuffy Gosewisch.
Just a week shy of his 30th birthday, the kid inside of the D-backs catcher has never felt more alive.
“Everyone keeps reminding me that I’m almost 30, but I don’t feel 30,” said Gosewisch. “I want to keep playing this game for awhile, because I just enjoy coming to the ballpark. The number doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s just that, a number.”