Christian Bethancourt could not play any other position, he was born to be a catcher.
When he first picked up a bat at age 5, he was a third baseman, but he had trouble staying there. Every time a batter would hit a ball, even if it was toward right field, he would run after it.
“I remember my mom would scold me because when they would hit a ball I wanted to go and get it. I didn’t trust my peers. I didn’t think they could catch it.”
Bethancourt said he was a restless child who always needed to be doing something when he was growing up in Panama City, Panama. After that, his parents decided that following in his father’s footsteps as a catcher would probably be a better fit.
“That’s when they said, ‘we’re going to make you the catcher because if you move they will score a run and we will lose,’” Bethancourt said. “That was the only way I would stay in one place.”
Baseball runs in Bethancourt’s blood. Amateur baseball players can be found on both his mother’s and father’s side of the family. His father was a catcher in his employer’s recreational baseball and softball league.
“I would go every day to the stadium, and I would put on the mask to be like my dad,” he said. “I think that’s where it stuck with me.”
But Bethancourt is the only member of his family to make it to the major leagues. He made his debut Sept. 29 in the eighth inning of a Braves game at Turner Field against the Phillies. Bethancourt struck out in his only at-bat, but the Braves won 12-5.
Bethancourt went back to Double-A Mississippi for the rest of the 2013 season, and he started this season at Triple-A Gwinnett. That’s where he was when he got the call Saturday.
Evan Gattis was out while he awaited an MRI scan to diagnose a bulging thoracic disk in his back, and with a doubleheader on tap, manager Fredi Gonzalez needed a backup for veteran catcher Gerald Laird.
When Bethancourt’s alarm rang Saturday morning, he thought his day would include catching a game at Coolray Field that night, but that was not the case. Awake but still in bed, Bethancourt answered the call he had waited for.
“They called me and told me I had a flight at 3 p.m.,” Bethancourt said. “I got to Philadelphia. I arrived at the stadium, and they told me to get dressed because you’ve got to go play.”
Bethancourt has caught every Braves game since. With Gattis on the 15-day disabled list and no announced timetable for his return, Bethancourt has a chance to stay longer this time.
“He’s part of our 25 guys right now, and we need him to be the best he can be,” Laird said.
The 12-year veteran Laird has taken the rookie under his wing and shared advice during Bethancourt’s first few days in the clubhouse.
“It’s just more of the mental side of the position more than anything that I’m helping him out with because it can get tough. The game can get going fast and calling so many pitches in a game,” Laird said. “So I just try to say listen, this is what in certain situations you might want to do, and this is where you can go to get outs. And letting him know little things that our pitchers like to do that he’s not familiar with just so he has an idea.”
Since Bethancourt joined the team the Braves haven’t lost, and he recorded his first major league RBI on Tuesday night against the Mets. He’s struggled at bit at the plate in his four games, in which he has hit .200 (3-for-15) with five strikeouts.
“You don’t even notice he hasn’t been back there for a while. He’s plugged himself in and just locked in,” Andrelton Simmons said. “Guys are not shaking him off that much, so he’s putting the right fingers down. Runners are afraid to go. He’s been really good for the last couple of games for us.”
Bethancourt said he doesn’t have specific goals for the length of his stint in the majors, but he wants to proved he can consistently help the team win. He said he feels welcome in the clubhouse, having the experience of coming up in the minors with pitchers Luis Avilan, Julio Teheran and Alex Wood, among others. For now, he’s keeping his head down and focusing on the job at hand.
“He’s good,” Laird said. “He smiles, but he keeps quiet, that’s good.
“Rookies, they’re here to play and help compete and they’re part of the team but they’re here play, not be heard. He’s done a good job at that.
“He’s stays in his locker, he knows his routine, he knows what his job is, and that’s why we all respect him. He’s going to be a great player here soon.”