Catcher James Benjamin Gosewisch knows that Mariners fans wouldn’t have been chanting his name at Safeco Field if it weren’t for his catchy nickname: Tuffy.
Maybe they should, though.
His story is one of those specific to baseball — and showcases its rare quality as a professional sport that occasionally rewards perseverance and determination over youth and alluring potential.
At 33, and now in his 13th season of professional baseball, Gosewisch has collected a scant 78 major league hits (career .197 batting average).
But his skill in handling pitchers and executing his defensive tasks caused the Mariners to call him up from Triple-A Tacoma last weekend when Mike Zunino was sent down.
On Saturday, he laid down a perfect bunt in a seven-run, seventh-inning rally. It was intended as a sacrifice to advance the runner, but a throwing error left him safe as he hustled to first.
Tuff-y. Tuff-y. Tuff-y.
“I think they were just excited about the seven runs,” Gosewisch said of the fans’ instant connection with him. “It was late in the game, too, so maybe they had a few ‘pops’ in them.”
But there’s the nickname too.
“Sure, that probably has something to do with it,” he said. “Everyone who hears it is always, ‘Hey, what’s that about?’ ”
The name goes all the way back to when he was 6 months old and such a destructive force that his father gave him the name. The story is told that the little tyke would demolish his crib, crash to the floor and be on his way.
So he could have been called “Wild Child” Gosewisch, which might have been an even better baseball nickname than “Tuffy.”
Given his unwavering commitment to make it to the big leagues, he should be called “The Big Dogged.” It would be harder to chant, but would capture what Gosewisch has been all about since leaving Arizona State at age 21 and toiling exclusively in the minors until he was almost 30.
Didn’t there come a time over the years when the frustration of not getting a chance in the majors force serious self-examination and consideration of the possibility of giving it up?
“Oh, all the time … all the time,” he said. “When I was younger, I felt like I was good enough to play in the big leagues and that really motivated me. I wanted to get up here and see what I could do. That was my reason for sticking with it. I knew if I were to quit, I’d never get the opportunity again and that would have been something I would have regretted.”
It paid off, as he spent parts of the past four seasons in the big leagues with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Mariners picked him up off waivers from Atlanta in January.
Catchers are the day laborers of baseball, the clock-punching, blue-collar guys. They take a beating and they’ve got to be tough. There’s a good paycheck in it, but a physical toll is extracted every day behind the plate.
Now, as a family man, he has to think about his wife and young daughter, Everleigh, who, he claimed, shares some of her father’s adolescent traits. “Oh, yeah, she’s got attitude,” he said.
Somebody who has this much experience, particularly as a catcher, is often considered a good candidate to become a manager at some point. But Gosewisch just isn’t ready to give up playing.
“There’s plenty of guys who play until 40,” he said. “If you work with the pitchers well and you’re good in the clubhouse and you bring more than just your on-field talent, there’s a reason you can stick around.”
But you have to be tough. And if you are, and you’ve paid your dues to get here, just maybe they’ll chant your name.