LE RECEVEUR : Bruce Bochy Is Happy to Catch Any Attention
When the French-speaking fans at Olympic Stadium in Montreal hear Bruce Bochy announced as the receveur for the Padres, their curiosity is aroused.
The San Diego catcher is assumed to have Gallic blood, which makes him the recipient of a stream of comments from the stands.
If the fans knew he was born in Landes de Boussac, France, Bochy likely would hear even more foreign phrases shouted at him.
But the good people of Quebec might as well be yelling at him in Greek.
“I don’t have any idea what they’re saying,” said Bochy, whose father was in the military and happened to be stationed in France in 1955, when the future catcher was born.
“I don’t know the first word of French. Come to think of it, that might be for the best.”
Actually, Bochy is happy to receive any attention.
As a reserve player who only gets his uniform dirty once every 10 or days or so, he can’t be picky about what language the fans employ to boo or otherwise take note of his presence.
Terry Kennedy, the starting catcher for the past five seasons, is scheduled to appear in at least 130 games this year, down from last year’s total of 143, according to Manager Steve Boros. That means an increase in the number of workdays for Bochy.
“Terry is receptive to getting more rest because it ought to make him more productive,” Boros said. “And, of course, Bruce is happy about getting a little more playing time.”
Bochy, who has been with the Padres since 1983, batted .268 with 6 homers and 13 runs batted in last year, when he appeared in 48 games.
Those numbers may seem modest, but to supply a little perspective, it should be noted that Bochy was not the starter in 48 games. He appeared as a pinch-hitter, or as a late-inning replacement for Kennedy in several games, thus limiting him to 112 at-bats.
“I realize I may not ever be an everyday player,” Bochy said with equal parts realism and equanimity. “If I was 21 or 22, that might bother me. If I were that young, I’d rather be playing every day in Triple-A than sitting on the bench up here.
“But I’m nearly 31, and I’m happy where I am. I know what is expected of me. I know I’m more at the stage of being a suspect and not a prospect.”
Bochy’s dry humor and pleasant attitude make for a smooth relationship with Kennedy.
As the Padre starter discovered early in his career, a role player doesn’t automatically hit it off with the man ahead of him.
“When I was in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, I got called up from Triple-A to the big leagues when Ted Simmons broke his hand in 1979,” Kennedy said. “Steve Swisher had been the backup catcher, but they gave the job to me. He looked at me as a threat and I didn’t appreciate that. It was tough.”
Kennedy and Swisher were traded to the Padres following the 1980 season. The antagonism came with them.
“I think Swish expected to win the job here, and when I got it, he really got his nose bent out of shape,” Kennedy said. “With Boch, it’s different. He’s a very intelligent guy, and he’s honorable. Heck, there were times last year the fans were booing me and calling for him to be in the lineup. That’s cool. I wish him well.”
So does General Manager Jack McKeon, who has signed Bochy through 1987.
“Bruce has got his head screwed on right,” McKeon said. “The guy is a hard worker and has good rapport with the other players. He doesn’t complain and he doesn’t get frustrated. He is an asset to this club and he warrants a chance to play a little more.”
With Kennedy about to turn 30, and his understudy a year older, the Padres are beginning to think about their eventual successors. McKeon is excited about two young prospects, Benito Santiago, 21, and Santo Alomar, 19. Both are scheduled for more minor league seasoning this year.
Bochy, meanwhile, is waiting patiently for the few extra ballgames promised by Boros.
“I never heard that sort of talk before (under Dick Williams),” Bochy said. “It’s a long season. Every catcher needs a few days off. It should keep Terry and me sharper. Every day behind the plate takes its toll on your legs, and you lose the pop in your swing and your arm.”
Bochy developed some extra pop in his swing last year after batting coach Deacon Jones suggested he move several inches closer to the plate.
“I became more of a pull hitter, and the ball started looking bigger,” Bochy said. “Not at first, though. I think I went 0 for 10 after I changed.
“To a role player, 10 at-bats is a long time, maybe a month, so it was tough for me not to press. But I stuck with it, and it paid off. I’ve learned to take life in increments of 10 at-bats. Just go 3 for 10 and you’re OK.”
Even though he spends an inordinate time in the bullpen--somebody has to warm up the relief pitchers--Bochy is well-versed on opposing hitters. The chief problem is poor visibility from the bullpen at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
“It’s hard to see what our guys are throwing sometimes,” he said. “Often it’s just a guess as to what a guy hits, but I go to Terry after a game and ask him so I’ll know how we get a given hitter out.”
Bochy, a reserve with the Houston Astros and New York Mets before coming to the Padres, has a pretty balanced view of his lot.
“The way I see it, the backup catcher’s job is basically just to win, and not bring the team down when he’s behind the plate,” he said. “Nobody ever puts it in those terms, but that’s the way I feel about it. You don’t want the manager second-guessing himself for using you.”
Bochy recognizes that the essence of his job is fitting in quietly and efficiently.
“Except for one year in Houston, when I platooned, I have been in this role most of my time in the big leagues,” Bochy said. “I struggled with the role for a few years, but I’m not tight anymore. I’m comfortable when I get in there. You either learn to handle the role or you won’t be around very long.”