Former Yankees manager Casey Stengel might have put it best when he said, “No baseball pitcher would be worth a darn without a catcher who could handle the fastball.” Over his career, Virginia Tech’s Joe Freiday, Jr. has borne the brunt behind the plate for the Hokies with 78 starts at catcher in his three seasons. Last year, the senior from Lakeville, Massachusetts batted .225 with eight home runs and 23 RBIs. In the 2018 season, Freiday will again command the pitching staff and provide a powerful bat in the Hokies’ lineup.
Q: If there was a movie made about Joe Freiday, who would be cast for your character?
JF: One of my favorite guys out right now is Ryan Reynolds. I’ve always thought that the guy is an absolute stud. He pretty much can do whatever he wants as far as Hollywood goes, and he’s got Blake Lively so I don’t think you can really beat that.
Q: Who is the smartest guy on the team?
JF: The smartest guy on the team would probably be Tom Stoffel. He’s an engineer, and I’ve never really seen a kid balance as much as he does. He’s a jack of all trades. There’s so much more that everyone doesn’t know about the kid that is pretty astounding.
Q: You’re from Massachusetts, so why did you choose to come to Virginia Tech?
JF: I came here because the campus is unbelievable. ACC baseball is something at a premium as far as up north. There aren’t that many schools. [Coach] Pat Mason had strong ties to Massachusetts, with himself being from there. That’s a big reason why I was seen and why I was recruited from around there. Everyone up north really thinks about going down south for baseball. It’s kind of the dream because we know that’s where the ballplayers really come from.
Q: Who is your favorite pitcher to catch? What pitch are you calling from him with an 0-2 count on the batter?
JF: Right now I have to say our guy Connor Coward. I’ve been catching him for the last three years and summer ball one year. It’s inexplicable the kind of chemistry we have built. 0-2 you have to say I’m burying the breaker.
Q: How does your approach at the plate change when there’s nobody on vs. when there’s a runner on third and less than two outs?
JF: Obviously when there’s a runner on third and less than two outs there’s no reason you can’t make that guy score. At that point it’s just how bad you want to compete and how bad you really want to win for your team. Sometimes when you have nobody on base you want to get something started, you want to hit something in the gap. You make your swing a little bigger and try to get some juice behind it and try to hit it out of the park. It’s definitely a different story when there’s a guy on third. You have to get the ball to the right side of the infield.
Q: What’s the hardest part about being a catcher?
JF: The hardest part about being a catcher would have to be balancing the offensive side with how much you have to worry about on the defensive side, and really just ignoring what happens at the plate that day. Everyone wants to make an impact there, but catchers are mostly expected to handle the pitching staff and control the game behind the plate. It is probably the hardest defensive position on the field. Those bad days at the plate are just something you have to put behind you and realize what’s more important at the moment.
Q: How has it been having Coach Micheal Thomas on staff as someone who works specifically with the catchers?
JF: Coach Thomas really knows what he’s talking about. As you guys know, he played pro ball a couple years. He’s just like us pretty much. We know he’s not that far removed from playing college baseball. He was just in our shoes what probably feels like yesterday to him. All the different drills and ideas he’s brought to the table, the ideas of catching are just something that can’t be replaced right now.
Q: Last year you saw a power surge, going from three home runs in 2016 to eight home runs in 2017. What do you think was the reason for that increase in home runs for you?
JF: I definitely put more of an emphasis on catching the barrel. I was feeling really good in the first half of last year, but unfortunately I ended up breaking my back right around the halfway point of the season. I continued to play and my numbers went down from that point, but I was excited about the potential I showed through the first half of the season. I’m a bigger guy and a stronger guy, so I don’t have to put everything I have into the ball. I just put the barrel onto the baseball and hope it finds some green.
Editor’s note: Freiday suffered back pain during the season and after further examination at the end of the season, it was determined he had a stress fracture in his back.
Q: What do you have to work on to see improvement in your game defensively behind the plate this year?
JF: Definitely consistency. I’ve shown that I can do a variety of the things that you need to do as a catcher such as throwing guys out, blocking the baseball, receiving it well, and calling a good game when need be. I need to be able to lock in for nine innings every single day I can. Play the best baseball I can and give my team the best chance I can. I know physically I’m gifted with the tools to make that happen, I just need to stay into the game mentally.
Q: How do you want people to remember Joe Freiday when you take off the Virginia Tech jersey for the last time?
JF: I really hope they remember me as a guy who played with integrity and someone who gave his all when he stepped on and off the field.