Cather’s MLB Days Began With Whacky Sacrifices In Minors
As a former player, Mike Cather knows of the struggles in minor league baseball.
The stories come, one after another, with relative ease. His memory is sharp. There was the time while with the Double-A Greenville Braves that the team bus broke down on the interstate somewhere in Tennessee, and Cather along with his teammates waited in the dark of night for help to arrive.
"We ended up eating spaghetti at 4:30 a.m., before our bus rolled into Chattanooga - right before batting practice. Nobody slept that night," says Cather who last month began the Triple-A season as the Syracuse Mets' pitching coach.
"Then, there was the time when our team bus broke down, twice, going to Trenton (New Jersey). I didn't plan on spending a July 4th on the side of a road actually hitchhiking, to call for our driver to get help."
Cather, who has since left his coaching position with Syracuse, laughs freely about his experiences on his way up to fulfilling his dream to make it to the majors. As a 41st-round draft pick of the Texas Rangers in 1993, from the beginning, it was clear that this player selected from the University of California - Berkeley wasn't projected to be fast-tracked to an MLB roster.
But, it's these experiences that come in handy to share with and get through to the kids Cather is mentoring. And the former right-handed pitcher, who experienced parts of three seasons with the Atlanta Braves ('97-'99) has a resume that spans 23 years at all levels of player development.
On the diamond and in the clubhouse, Cather has the credibility with his players to keep them alert and motivated to make the next jump in their careers.
" I tell the players to expect challenges. They have to realize that there is going to be changes on a daily basis to deal with," Cather tells. " There are so many facets and layers to this game. I tell them (pitchers) not to fight it or complain. Just adjust."
Included in Cather's coaching talks include obstacles such as how to deal with Fireworks Night, a popular promotion spread throughout all levels in minor league ball. The San
Diego native, who pitched in four different MLB organizations (Texas, Miami, St. Louis, and Atlanta), recalls sitting around for hours, all related to the setting up and setting off of grand bursts of light shows in the skies over ballparks.
Then, of course last season and the start of this campaign, the mandates on all players and staff surrounding COVID-19 are asked to follow is added to daily workouts.
Baseball should be all fun and games, but it's a business, as well. The health and safety of everyone wearing a uniform, as well as front-office staff, is first and foremost.
To get through to players, many on the cusp of realizing their dreams from as far back as when they began in tee ball, to those looking for an edge to return to the big leagues, it's up to people in positions like Cather to keep them on track.
" Everyone has their own path in their careers. I experienced a lot in this game," said Cather during a recent telephone conversation.
The resume speaks for itself.
Cather pitched in the College World Series. He served as the minor league pitching coordinator for the Marlins. Then, there was a stint for the Padres as their organization's roving pitching instructor. Scouting for the Boston Red Sox, and coaching in their player development system, as well as teaching pitchers in the Chicago Cubs' system also has been stops along Cather's journey as a baseball educator.
Plus, there were a couple seasons serving as Arizona State University's pitching coach.
Cather's first-hand stories of overcoming obstacles, almost always coming with little warning or any control over, resonate with his students.
Overcoming injuries is part of baseball.
Back during the 1998 season, while a member of the Braves' staff, Cather late in the season began experiencing circulatory problems in his right arm. He had surgery which included the removal of the first rib on his right side. The rib had been impinging on Cather's artery. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is what doctors labeled Cather's wows. This is the same condition Baltimore Orioles pitcher Matt Harvey experience in the 2016 season, while a member of the New York Mets.
As a coach, Cather preaches connecting with his staff is paramount to any levels of progress to be made.
" If you connect, that's 75% of the battle," Cather proclaims. " You have to be able to connect in order to answer questions. A coach's experience gets your first foot in the door. But, if you don't bring the goods after that, you will have difficulties"
From spring training on down through the regular season, Cather is blunt. He informs his pitchers that everything that they are expecting for the upcoming season is going to be different. From player transactions and injuries, to weather, those who are able to react and adapt will position themselves for further success.
Pitching in post-season play for the Braves, and sharing bullpens and dugouts with hall of fame pitchers and leaders has allowed Cather to pick their baseball brains for future use.
" I learned to do things better. Greg Maddux was empowering. He would tell me to do this and why - and it worked, " offers Cather, who has also served as a private pitching instructor for a number of years. " John Smoltz showed me to find ways to do things better. This guy (Smoltz) had multiple surgeries. He went to throwing a knuckleball, to being a starter, a relief pitcher, to pitching submarine style. There was so much to learn just by watching Smoltz up close."
Of his spending parts of 10 seasons in the minors, one stands out above the rest.
In 2000, playing for the Marlins' Triple-A affiliate in Calgary, Alberta, Canada remains special for Cather.
1,600 miles north of his hometown in Southern California, Cather labels his time based in the Alberta province as a "dream."
" It was unbelievable. When we (Calgary Cannons) were home, every morning at 4:30 a.m., I would be fly fishing until 10:30 a.m. Then, I took a nap, and went to the yard. What a beautiful city. To me, the time I spent fishing was just tranquil. My wife and daughter, and I would take trips to Banff, and watch the elk."
Add the stop with the Syracuse Mets to Cather's bulging resume. Pitching class is always in with "Professor" Mike.
Don Laible is a freelance sportswriter living in the Mohawk Valley. He has reported on professional baseball and hockey for print, radio, and on the web since the 1980's. His columns are featured weekly at WIBX950.com. Don can be contacted via email at Don@icechipsdiamonddust.com.