PHOENIX — Another page was added to the feel-good Tuffy Gosewisch narrative Monday, when the Horizon High School and Arizona State alumnus heard his name called over the Chase Field loudspeaker as the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Opening Day starting catcher.
Gosewisch’s story first came full circle when he made his major league and D-backs debut Aug. 1, 2013 — 16 days shy of his 30th birthday. He went 1-for-3 then, against Yu Darvish and the Texas Rangers, and did the same three days later against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. On Aug. 11 of that year, he took the field in front of his hometown crowd: not at Packard Stadium in Tempe nor at Husky Park in Scottsdale, but at Chase Field.
It was a long time coming for him. Those big league games were preceded by nine seasons in the minor leagues, mostly with the Philadelphia Phillies organization. He hit .239 over those years and also saw time with the Toronto Blue Jays before being acquired by Arizona.
“At times, it was really tough, but I wasn’t going to give up until they told me I had to,” Gosewisch said before Monday’s season opener against the San Francisco Giants.
His inclusion on an Opening Day lineup card is surely unlikely, but became a feasibility after the D-backs traded incumbent backstop Miguel Montero — and the $40 million owed him — to the Chicago Cubs in December of last year.
“He deserves it,” D-backs manager Chip Hale of Gosewisch said before the game.
When the 31-year-old arrived in Reno a couple of seasons ago, entering his ninth season in the minors, he first met current D-backs teammate Chase Anderson. That was a rough year for Anderson, who pitched to a 5.73 ERA over 13 starts — 26 games overall. But the duo forged a friendship through that, Anderson said.
The right-hander described Gosewisch Monday as “a guy that really cares about his pitcher.”
“The care he has for his pitching staff and his pitchers is second to none,” he went on.
Relationships between pitchers and catchers is unlike any other tandem in sports. A token of that came around 3 p.m. Monday, when Opening Day starter Josh Collmenter walked into the D-backs clubhouse carrying a gift for his catcher: a handle of bourbon in a display case. The two shook hands and Collmenter congratulated him on the nod.
“They call it the battery, right?” Anderson continued, citing an old idiom. “He gets mad when you throw a bad pitch, too. Not just you, you know? He just cares about you. When you do good, he praises you. You need to be picked up a little? He picks you up.”
Gosewisch will need to lean on those leadership skills in 2015 in leading a young D-backs pitching staff, which shares an average age of 26. On Monday, he had to pick up staff veteran Josh Collmenter, visiting the mound three times in the pitcher’s 4.2-inning loss.
“He just works really well with them,” Hale said of Gosewisch’s rapport with pitchers. “He studies, looks at film, studies the other team and understands the strengths and weaknesses of the other hitters and the strengths and weaknesses of his pitchers — and he uses it to their advantage.”
Gosewisch by now has spent a fair amount of time with most D-backs pitchers, after serving all of last season as Montero’s backup. He hit .225 in 41 games last year.
“I got an opportunity with these guys and, you know, it would have been nice to come earlier, with a different team and who I was originally with, but they don’t always come when you want them. But I got the opportunity and I’m looking forward to continuing to be here,” Gosewisch said.
The Scottsdale native was announced before 49,043 in attendance Monday in Phoenix, including about a dozen close friends and family: his parents, in-laws and the family of his best friend from high school. He was situated less than 14 miles from where he played high school baseball and eight miles from where he played in college.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said, smiling.
Gosewisch went 1-for-4, getting the D-backs’ first hit off of Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner.