Q&A: Heberto Andrade
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One might not easily recognize the guy wearing No. 86 for the Pirates. He has no baseball card, and he is not even mentioned in the team's 368-page media guide.
He is Heberto Andrade, universally and affectionately known as "Herbie," and he is in his third year as the team's bullpen catcher, perhaps the most taxing -- and thankless -- job of any in the organization.
Andrade, 39, spent 1988-89 as a catcher in the Chicago Cubs' system, then bounced all over the world, from Italy to Colombia to his native Venezuela, in pursuit of his baseball goals. In the winter, he is a base coach and catching instructor for the Aguilas del Zulia club in Venezuela.
He spoke recently with Pirates beat writer Dejan Kovacevic.
Q. A team averages about 150 pitches per game. How many pitches do you catch in a day?
Andrade: Depends on how the games go, but I'll do a warmup or two before the game, and it's about 200-300 by the end of the night. In spring training, it's more because you're catching guys all morning and afternoon.
Q. And how about that 18-inning game May 27?
Andrade: Oh, I lost count. I would warm someone up, then sit down, then someone else was up, then we ran out of relief pitchers. I was alone for a little while, and then Victor Santos showed up.
Q. How much does it wear you down? Have you had injuries?
Andrade: I thought there was something really wrong with my knee in the offseason, but it was a case of the gout, kind of an arthritis, and it went away on its own.
Q. How would you describe your relationship with others in the bullpen? Do they treat you as an equal?
Andrade: Oh, it's a really nice experience, to be with great pitchers and work out with younger guys. I remember what it was like working with Jose Mesa. We have a relationship where we could talk about baseball, where I could help them. The relievers know I can tell when something is wrong. Sometimes, they ask me if I see it. Mesa was the first one. He told me to speak up when I saw something. And besides all that, there are friendships, too. I feel like part of the team.
Q. Can you tell when someone just flat-out has nothing?
Andrade: Yeah, I can tell. I'll just think to myself, 'OK, he has no stuff today.' But it doesn't always mean something. Some pitchers don't throw 100 percent in the bullpens. Other times, it just doesn't matter because they make adjustments when they're out in the game. If they can't locate their fastball, they just go with their second or third pitch until they figure out the fastball.
Q. How does one get to be a bullpen catcher in the majors?
Andrade: When Pete Mackanin was with the Pirates, he was a manager in Venezuela in the winter, and I was the coach. Three years ago, he told me Pittsburgh was looking for a bullpen catcher, and then they asked me.
Q. What did you think? Any reservations?
Andrade: I didn't say yes right away. It wasn't one of my goals. I'm an instructor, a teacher, a coach, and I know that I could be doing that job. I know I could be working with pitchers, too. That makes you go on. I'm learning more and more about the game, and I just love it. I feel like I'm growing up in the game. And I take it all with me when I go back to Venezuela each winter.
Q. Do you ever look back and wonder what it might have taken to make it this far as a player?
Andrade: Oh, sure. That's why I played all over the world. I should have stayed here and played more in the minor leagues. But when I was young, things were different. There were some people who didn't like Latin players back then, and a lot of us had a tough time. I tried to work things out, and it didn't work out. That's in the past, but it's still with me. I still am very aware to respect people of all kinds. That's how I feel as a person. If you respect me, I'll respect you.
Q. Has that changed in the game since then?
Andrade: Yes. Big-time.
Q. Do you consider yourself to be just one of the guys here?
Andrade: Absolutely. I feel great when we win, terrible when we lose. I'm part of the team, and I stick with these guys in the good times and the bad.David Zalubowski, Associated Press
Colorado Rockies relief pitcher Jose Mesa, left, jokes with Pirates bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade at the teams' batting practice June 5 before the Rockies played host to the Pirates.
Click photo for larger image.
First Published June 26, 2006 12:00 am