Catcher Tony Wolters is the glue keeping the Rockies together, now more than ever.
In the months after spring training was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was Wolters who offered up his services, often at a moment’s notice, when pitchers called him for a pitch-and-catch session.
Playing catcher is one of the toughest, dirtiest, and sometimes, most thankless, jobs in sports, but you can bet Wolters is appreciated by his teammates.
“Tony was a blessing to be around during this shutdown,” starter Jon Gray said Saturday as the Rockies held their first full-scale workout of summer camp at Coors Field. “He’s such a positive guy who always does what he can to help us pitchers out. It could be anything and Tony would always be willing to help. He’s a special dude.”
Gray, along with German Marquez, Jeff Hoffman, Wade Davis, Kyle Freeland and others who worked out in Scottsdale, Ariz., following the March 13 shutdown, relied on Wolters to be there for them.
“As a catcher, you are pretty used to that,” Wolters said. “At the same time, I was trying to keep myself healthy. … But I thought I was able to catch and was able to talk about baseball with the guys as much as (I could) throughout this pandemic. So I felt like we had a good thing going in Arizona with the groups we had.”
Bullpen coach Daryl Scott owns a portable, wooden pitching mound and it came in handy. The Rockies loaded it into the back of their trucks and hauled it to a neighborhood park for small-group practice sessions.
There were a lot of protocols that Wolters and his teammates followed.
“Make sure you clean off the mound, make sure you sanitize the gear,” Wolters said.
As a catcher, Wolters understands that he could be more susceptible to the virus than players at other positions. So, in addition to the body armor he wears behind the plate to ward off foul tips and wild pitches, he’s seeking extra precautions against an invisible enemy.
“I have been testing out different masks that I can wear under my helmet,” he said. “I don’t want to get the virus. I don’t want to give my family the virus or anything.
“I know that there is going to be a little more contact with catchers — touching the baseball all of the time, hitters coming up and the umpire behind you. So that’s definitely been on the back of my mind.”
Still, Wolters made a conscious choice to stay upbeat when the pandemic turned the world upside down.
“I knew it could go both ways, but I took the positive route,” he said. “I said, ‘I’m going to use this to my advantage. I’m going to get strong and I’m going to be more flexible.’ I was going to use the time to get my body even more ready than it was.”
Coors advantage? Late-game reliever Scott Oberg was asked Saturday if the 60-game season could help Rockies pitchers. He provided an interesting take.
“I think it will play well for us,” Oberg said. “It’s a unique situation in the sense that we actually get to practice in our home ballpark and in our home altitude, really for the first time.
“In prior years we are always doing our spring training in Arizona and then usually start (the season) on the road for a week. So we kind of get hit in the face by the altitude a little bit when we come back home. So having these three weeks here is actually going to be beneficial for our pitchers.”