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AN Exclusive: At 28, Anthony Recker Gets His Shot At Being A "Late Bloomer"

Me catch pretty one day.
Me catch pretty one day.

With his notable good looks, Anthony Recker's nickname should probably be "Home Recker". But to have a nickname, you have to be somebody and Recker's journey to "being somebody" has taken longer than most. Normally, if you're 28 and still hoping for your "shot in the big leagues," that shot will never come.

Recker, however, appears to be an exception and when I caught up to him at spring training on March 19th, the A's backup catcher talked about his long-and-winding path to the big leagues and gave some insight into who he is -- as well as where he might be headed.

Nico: How old were you when you first got noticed, started getting notice from scouts that you were more than just a "player with a dream" -- that you might be a major league prospect?

Recker: I think I'm a little different than most guys. I was discovered a little bit older; I was also a late bloomer, so I didn't really start producing until I was a little older. I got my size Junior/Senior year. But after my Senior year I played Legion ball and I had a scout come up to me and say, "Hey, stick with it. You have some talent -- you're really raw, but you have some talent. Just stick with it, refine your skills at the college level and you've got a shot. And that was the first time I even gave it thought. I mean I always wanted to play sports as a kid, but I was going to college to study law and I had a whole different plan going. And then baseball happened to work out, so here I am!

Nico: So would you have been able to predict 10 years ago that you would be looking for (your first real) major league spot in your mid-to-late 20s vs. your early 20s? Because most guys are thinking, "22, 23, 24...I'm going to be old as a prospect."

Recker: Yeah, I got drafted when I was 21. I was a later-round pick: 18th round, out of Division III school, a Senior. I wasn't really a highly touted prospect or anything. My goal was just to come in and work as hard as I could, do whatever I could, see what would happen - that was my only goal, just give it everything I have and that's it. It's led me here and it's led me to hopefully breaking with the big league team at 28 years old. But that's my "plan," I guess, that's the way it's supposed to be. It would have been great to break in at 23, 24, 25, whatever, but obviously this is what was meant for me and I'm going to make the best of it while I can.

Nico: Usually the stories are interesting of the day you get the call of when you're drafted, how you're drafted, who drafted you. (Before I finish the question, Recker breaks into a smile and starts nodding his head.) What's your story of that night?

Recker: Yeah, mine's not bad. It's funny: I had a feeling I was going to get drafted, period, so I actually had a draft party set up for the second day of the draft. I wasn't expecting to go on the first day -- there's 18 rounds on the first day -- and wouldn't you know, with I don't know how many picks left, I got taken on the first day. But I was actually at a summer league game, playing, and my phone was in my catcher's bag and it was the 8th or 9th inning, and it just kept going off. And I heard it -- I was behind the plate, catching in the game, and it just kept going off, going off. So somebody from the team, when I came in after the inning, is like, "Hey, you've got to check your phone! What's going on?" So I went over, and sure enough it was my dad. He called me like 5 times, and finally I called him back and he was all excited, using expletives, and "The A's! The A's!" But it was good -- it was awesome -- I was an A's fan growing up, so it was really cool. And I hadn't actually heard anything from them, pre-draft, at all. But I was told that happens a lot, so that was almost expected. But it was a neat little time for me, for my parents, my family, for everybody.

Nico: Now did you have a feeling that the call was about the draft? Were the 8th and 9th innings hard to catch?

Recker (laughing): Yeah, yeah! I kind of got the idea, when the phone went off for the third or fourth time, I was like, "OK, something good just happened. Either that or something really bad." But I was thinking, probably something about the draft...It was funny, all the guys on the team were giving me crap about it, but...yeah, it was fun.

Nico: So, every ballplayer has a "plan A" and a "plan B," "I'm going to make it or I'm not," at some point,"I'm going to give up or I'm going to make them cut me." So as you get into your mid-20s -- you're 25, 26, 27 -- what are the off-season conversations like, who are they with, as far as the long-term plan?

Recker: I had some talks with some friends. There was a buddy back home, we talked about going into the FBI...but my mind was always on baseball, I was always preparing 100% for baseball. I talked to some of my other buddies back home who were setting up some businesses, or they were setting some things up, whether it be turning houses over -- whatever they were doing I helped them out a little bit -- but for the most part, even though I had a backup plan my mind was always just made up, especially as I got older and I started coming up through the ranks and my name started getting mentioned a little bit and people were telling me, "Hey, you've got a real shot. Hey, you could really do this." That's when I started saying, "OK, the backup plan, yeah I'll have it but I think I'm really going to go for it because it's something I think I can really attain and it's something I really want to do.

Nico: Did you have any specific disappointments where you thought, "I'm gonna get my chance now, or this year, where it almost worked?"

Recker: Yeah, there were a couple years there where coming into camp, or performing well in camp, you think things are going well...I struggled to start off the year in '09 in AAA, but then I figured it out towards the end of the year and I ended up putting up some pretty good numbers and I had a pretty decent year. And defensively I felt great, and offensively I put it together at the end of the year, and everything seemed to be going well.

And coming into 2010, I had a great camp, I was excited, I thought, "OK, I might not break with the team or anything, but I'll probably go to AAA and I'll have a legitimate shot at working my way into the big leagues sometime that year and as it turned out we ended up picking up an extra catcher/OFer and I ended up starting the year in AA, which was, "Wow" - that was the first time I ever was really down about baseball and the whole, "It's a business."

But I learned it, I figured it out, and I'm better because of it, I came back a lot stronger. I finished out the year in 2010 at AAA -- I was only in AA for a couple weeks, so it was ok. And then coming into 2011, it was a pretty similar situation. I finished 2010 so well, and came into 2011 thinking, "OK I have a legitimate shot at maybe breaking with the club, if my name's getting tossed around, and it didn't work out that way but I went to AAA and had a really good year, and had a good time there, and got the call-up at the end of the year, which was great, obviously, so it all worked out the way it was supposed to.

Nico: I gather that the communication is not always great, that you don't always know what to expect ahead of time?

Recker: Yeah, you always hear about this guy or that guy, but for the most part it's, "Go out there and perform and we'll tell you where you're at the day that you're leaving." And that's how it should be. You don't want to feel like you deserve something, or you're entitled to something, or you already have something. You want to feel like you have to work for it.

So even now to this day (March 19th), we're about to break camp and I'm one of two catchers here, and I have guys coming up to me saying, "Hey, congratulations," and I just tell them, "Hey, we didn't break (camp) yet, nothing's set in stone yet. I want to work all spring, and I want to work all season, because...we have a really good catcher here in Kurt (Suzuki) who plays a lot, so my playing time's going to be limited. And so I've really got to work to get as much playing time as I can, and that's going to be my next goal: To keep working and working, and get more playing time and have a better shot at staying up here.

Nico: So by the time this runs, one thinks there's a good chance you're going to be on the team. What would you characterize as your strengths and weaknesses right now, that you know you need to work on, or that you need to harness?

Recker: As far as strengths go, I feel great defensively. I've had an awesome camp, throwing, blocking, everything. For me, with Curt Young we're really talking about pitch calling, calling a game. That's probably the biggest, not necessarily adjustment I need to make -- I've always done my homework, I've always known hitters, I've always taken pride in my ability to call a game -- but the big league level is a little bit different. There's a lot more accountability for mistakes, and I have to be ready to face those. It's going to come down to being prepared every day, mentally, and ready to go as far as calling a game goes.

Nico: Now the A's have a lot of pitchers that you haven't caught, because they made the trades. If you were to become someone's "personal catcher," say you were the "once a week catcher," who would that likely be?

Recker: I really don't know. We do have a lot of young arms, we do have a lot of new arms. That's been one of the biggest learning curves of this camp is learning some of these guys. We have probably 4-5 young guys that are coming in who are going to be with the team and are going to be pitching a lot with us. So, I don't really know who it would be. I've worked well with (Tommy) Milone, I've worked well with (Jarrod) Parker. I haven't really caught (Brandon) McCarthy very much, but I know his game pretty well. Colon, obviously he's a veteran; I've caught him a couple times, and I'm very comfortable with him. (Brad) Peacock, as well, I caught him a couple times.

So we'll see. I don't think there's anyone in particular that I'll be a "personal catcher" for, but hey, I'd love to develop a great relationship with all of them, or if it's just one of them that's fine too.

(Author's Note: Oddly, the one starting pitcher Recker overlooked was Tyson Ross, who is also the only one Recker has actually caught in the minor leagues)

Nico: I was just trying to think if there was anyone you had caught in the minor leagues. Tyson Ross, maybe?

Recker: Yeah, yeah, I've caught Tyson a fair amount. I've caught McCarthy in the springs and Colon I've caught this spring, but...a lot of the relievers: (Andrew) Carignan. (Fautino) De Los Santos, I caught a lot of those guys coming up through the system. But yeah, we've got a lot of fresh arms, particularly the starters, so it's going to be an adjustment period.

Nico: OK, last question is: At some point your baseball career will wind down. Do you have a clear sense of what you will pursue as a career after baseball?

Recker: I haven't given it a ton of thought, (because) now that things are working well the way they are, my focus is primarily on that. But I need to have something going, and...I actually love to cook, so one of my dreams has always been to own a restaurant, and to cook at the restaurant. But we'll see -- that's way down the road, and I've heard running a restaurant is very hard work!

Nico: Compared to catching a young pitching staff, running a restaurant should be a breeze. ;-)

{When we did the interview, I actually knew that Recker had made the Japan roster but he hadn't gotten the official word yet. He was told just after our interview -- many congratulations to him, and from what I can tell it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.}