Get to know the Tacoma Rainiers
In the hours leading up to a game, Manuel Lobaton does a lot of running.
Jose Lobaton’s 6-year-old son runs through the tunnel outside the home clubhouse at Cheney Stadium, stopping occasionally to snag a piece of fruit from the pregame meal table. He runs to the clubhouse, where players try to slow him down and get a high-five. Before the Rainiers capped off their 11-game homestand on Sunday, he ran to the trainer’s room to find his father, who told him he had to go for a bit to do an interview.
Two minutes later, Manuel ran through the clubhouse door into the Cheney Stadium concourse to grab his dad’s hand.
“It is something great,” the elder Lobaton said. “I feel like I was waiting for this moment.”
Manuel was born in 2013, while Lobaton was in Tampa Bay. The next year, the Rays traded him to the Nationals, and Lobaton, his wife Nina, and Manuel moved to Washington D.C. for four seasons. Last year, he was bouncing between the Mets and Triple-A Las Vegas.
“When I was with the Nationals, he was little, then last year with the Mets, we didn’t really have time for him to go to the ballpark,” Lobaton said. “So this year, we had the time off after school. I’ve got the chance to see him more.
“That’s the best thing that ever happened to me, to be able to play catch with him, work with him outside, hit with him, teach him a lot of things around here.”
As a free agent this winter, Lobaton didn’t take the distance been major league teams and their Triple-A affiliates into account. But landing with the Mariners — where a call-up means just a 35-mile drive — is a happy accident, especially after the five-and-a-half hour flights between New York and Las Vegas last year.
“Knowing if something happens you can just drive the car 30 minutes, that’s the best thing,” Lobaton said. “I feel like it should be like that everywhere.”
But if the older Lobatons are happy being able to stay put, their son isn’t. While his father talked, Manuel chased Roy Howell and Ian Miller as they walked by. After sneaking up on performance specialist Derek Mendoza, he went back into the clubhouse, then returned moments later with a sort of thin bat that looked fashioned out of a sawed-off golf putter.
“He’s always around, he’s always playing,” Lobaton said. “He loves baseball. I don’t know if he’s going to be a baseball player or not, but he loves it.”
And who is his favorite player?
“My dad,” Manuel said.
“You asked him,” Lobaton laughed. “I didn’t say anything.”
On summer vacation, Manuel is in the Tacoma clubhouse nearly home game. He and Jose play catch on the field and hit in the cage in the afternoon, before Jose dons his uniform and does the real thing a couple hours later.
“Fifteen, 20 years from now, he might be in the big leagues doing something, and it all starts (here),” said Rainiers manager Daren Brown, whose father Paul played in the Phillies organization for eight seasons. “It’s memories that that kid will remember. I was 2 years old when my dad was playing. I don’t remember my dad playing. I think it’s kind of special when the kid gets to watch his dad play.”
Before Saturday evening’s game, Jose noticed that when Manuel stepped to the plate, he was crowding the dish, so he showed him how to ask for time and check his feet. Afterward, Nina told him that Manuel had played at the Wiffle ball field down the right field line at Cheney Stadium and done just that.
“That was pretty cool, that’s what I want,” Lobaton said. “I want him to listen and pay attention to what I’m saying, and then do it.”
Manuel isn’t the only one Lobaton wants to pass his knowledge on to. In Tacoma, the nine-year MLB veteran has gotten to work with pitchers that run from one-day call-ups to veterans with major league experience.
“Everything we talk about isn’t to make you a good Triple-A pitcher, it’s trying to put you in a spot to be a good major league pitcher,” Brown said. “When you’ve got a guy sitting back there that’s caught those guys with his experiences, he brings a lot to the table.”
Lobaton is currently hitting .242 with 12 home runs for the Rainiers. Behind the plate, he’s thrown out nine would-be base stealers, his most since 2014. He hasn’t gotten the call to Seattle yet, but he knows he’s just one break away.
“It’s been good so far,” Lobaton said. “I’ve been learning a lot of new things. I feel like every day, there’s something new I can learn.”
And in his case, something else he can teach.