Braves catchers define the ideal of teamwork

When either head of the Braves’ two-headed, Tyler Flowers/Kurt Suzuki catching arrangement talks about one of the better ideas of the 2017 season, some refreshingly unselfish thoughts spill out.

You want the cure for the common self-absorbed athlete? Take these two quotes and call me in the morning.

“It was almost like I was doing it (on the field) when he was doing it. And vice versa, I think,” Flowers said.

“It was about putting your ego in your back pocket and just trying to win,” Suzuki said.

They say when you have two quarterbacks, you really don’t have even one. That same cannot apply for a crucial baseball leadership position. When you have two catchers, you just might have a revelation.

Flowers caught 85 games last season, Suzuki caught 71. And together they made power sharing look easy. They made teamwork and selflessness look still relevant in the oft-petty play-for-pay workplace.

It was good for them, too. At 32, Flowers is coming off a season in which he had career highs in batting average (.281), on-base percentage (.378) and slugging percentage (.445). Two years his senior, Suzuki had only 309 plate appearances, but still pumped out a career-high of 19 home runs.

A funny thing happened on the way to bringing in a couple of veteran catchers to caretake a young pitching staff – the Braves got more productivity at the plate from the position than just about anyone in baseball (third in the majors in batting average and home runs, fourth in RBIs).

You put the two of them in a blender last season and you come up with a .282 average, 31 homers and 99 RBIs.

And knowing what’s good for them, the two certainly weren’t going to complain about a little relief from the stooping and the foul tips to vulnerable parts and the hot summers dressed in armor. Flowers, especially, as he finished out the season as beat up as the heavy bag your local gym. He should have had “Everlast” across his chest, rather than “Braves.”

How did Flowers and Suzuki make it work?

It could have been because of the career stage they shared.

“There are some guys, some teams where one guy wants to play more than the other. I think we’re both kind of at that point in our careers where we want to win. We just want to win and do whatever we can to help the team win. Whatever the situation was, we were fine with that,” Suzuki said.

But beyond that was an attitude of cooperation, a real quaint notion of teamwork and esprit de corps that deserves some credit.

That extended beyond the close quarters of the clubhouse. Both say they stayed in regular communication away from the park, both during the season and off, bouncing thoughts between each other. Which does a lot less damage than the bouncing baseballs.

Such an understanding should be easy, right? It’s called a team sport, after all.

“A lot of times, (the camaraderie between players at the same position) is not genuine, but this one is,” Flowers said. “We really enjoy each other. We pull for each other. It was awesome to see him hit five homers in one week, whatever it was (five over the span of six game appearances). I don’t know if a lot of catching duos could honestly say they were glad to see that kind of thing happen, but we were for each other.”

Flowers went on, “Do I think Suke wants to catch 110 games? Probably. Do I? Yeah.

“Ultimately what worked out best for the team and for each of us individually was kind of splitting it a little bit more. It’s always good to have, to give some options, where pitchers are confident throwing to either one of us. The more that we’re comfortable with each of the pitchers, and the pitchers are comfortable with both of us, that gives a lot more options. That’s going to benefit us individually but benefit the team in the long season.”

It should be so simple and so self-evident, that it is possible to be better and stronger in combination than individually. Such a concept doesn’t always occur across a lot of professions. Jealousy can be almost anyone’s occupational hazard.

Suzuki could give a team-building speech at your next corporate retreat. “I’m not in this game to compete against my own teammates, I’m here to help them win,” he said. “To be with a guy like Tyler who has the same kind of mentality, that’s why this works so much.”

What happens this season is up to the vagaries of a new season. “Obviously together we form a pretty good combination. You saw it all last year. Who knows? It’s baseball. Could be different this year. Could be the same,” Suzuki said.

It most certainly will be instructive.