Christian Bethancourt said he was still in bed in his Gwinnett County apartment about 1 p.m. Saturday, resting up from his Triple-A game the night before, when he got the phone call that the Braves wanted him in Philadelphia ready to catch Game 2 of their doubleheader against the Phillies that night.
Evan Gattis was still struggling to get loose from back spasms he’d first felt the night before, and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was concerned that Gerald Laird shouldn’t catch both games of the doubleheader and Ryan Doumit hadn’t caught a game in three months.
So they’d booked Bethancourt a 3:20 p.m. flight out of Atlanta. He had two hours to get his gear from the clubhouse at Coolray Field and get to Hartfield-Jackson.
“I got in traffic for a little bit,” said Bethancourt, the Panama native and the Braves top catching prospect, after Saturday night’s game. “It was all just in a hurry.”
That might have served him well, to keep his mind occupied with the rush rather than thinking about catching his first major league game just hours later - that is, if he arrived on time.
Bethancourt had spent three weeks getting his “cup of coffee” with the Braves last September, but he’d only gotten one at-bat that entire time and struck out on three pitches.
Bethancourt’s flight Saturday didn’t arrive in Philadelphia until about 5:20 p.m., about five minutes after the Braves first game ended Saturday, a 10-3 win. The Braves didn’t want to make the roster move until they knew Bethancourt could get to the stadium, so they waited.
The Game 2 starting pitcher – David Hale – was texting Bethancourt an hour before the game, asking him if he was going to make it in time.
Bethancourt got to Citizens Bank Park right around 6 p.m., in time to get dressed, get a crash course on the Phillies lineup from Gerald Laird and Hale and get out on the field to stretch.
“I’ve thrown to him a lot in the minor leagues,” Hale said. “I haven’t thrown to him in the past year and a half, so I was a little nervous just because I’ve added a sinker (since then).”
That was the first thing he mentioned to Bethancourt in their pre-game meeting.
“I was like ‘OK, if you throw it, I will catch it,’” Bethancourt said.
That’s about how self-assured he looked once the game started. You wouldn’t have known there’d been a mad rush. To the untrained eye of an unknowing Phillies fan, Bethancourt would have looked like just another catcher.
He caught all nine innings of a 5-1 win. He made a strong throw to second base trying to catch Ben Revere, who’d all but had the bag stolen anyway. And he got his first major league hit, on a groundball that shortstop Jimmy Rollins had to just put in his pocket.
“Once I was out there I felt like we hadn’t missed a beat,” Hale said. “I was very impressed by him.”
So was manager Fredi Gonzalez, who hadn’t seen Bethancourt catch in person since spring training.
“It’s nice for him to come out here and watch him catch and watch him block the baseball and watching everything that (Gwinnett manager) Brian Snitker has told us about him,” Gonzalez said.
Bethancourt grounded out and popped out in his first two at-bats, but he said it wasn’t because he was overly nervous. Not like he was when he struck out swinging at three straight curveballs from Phillies reliever Tyler Cloyd. He proved it with his base hit in his third at-bat with two outs in the sixth.
“I was kind of nervous last year,” Bethancourt said. “It was completely different this year. My mind was set that it was going to be just another game, whether I was still in Triple-A or it was here. I’ve just got to go out and there and do my job.”
That came with a perk Saturday night – walking off with the baseball from his first major league hit. Rollins had made sure to get it back to the Braves dugout. Bethancourt plans to give it to his mother.
“I think it was a special night for me, the first complete game for me,” Bethancourt said. “It was good to be back there doing what I like to do, which is catching. I think it was a great game.”