Gosewisch's nine years in Minors finally pays off
Above-average defender behind plate, offense finally coming around
PHOENIX -- What's in a name?
For James Benjamin Gosewisch, the relatively ordinary identity given to him at birth never seemed to fit. James just didn't do his hardnosed makeup enough justice.
Destructive, determined and ever-resilient, Gosewisch ceded to a new moniker his father donned on him at a young age, one that would eventually encapsulate his winding, nine-year road to the big leagues.
The name was Tuffy.
Sitting in the visitors' dugout of Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark on July 31 in Oklahoma City, home of the Astros' Triple-A affiliate, Gosewisch responded to the beckoning of Triple-A Reno skipper Brett Butler, who apparently needed to give the 29-year-old some bad news.
"After our game, he told me that our other catcher had been playing well lately and that the D-backs want him to start playing more," Gosewisch said. "So he said I won't be in the lineup very much from now on."
That's when Butler's stern face cracked into a smile.
"A few seconds later, he went on to say, 'That's because you're going to the big leagues,'" Gosewisch said. "And that's how I found out I finally made it."
Gosewisch needed to be tough in that moment, like he had been for the past nine years. Drafted out of Arizona State in the 11th round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft by the Phillies, Gosewisch steadily climbed Philadelphia's organizational ladder the first five years of his professional career. Midway through the 2009 season, he'd made it to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, on the threshold of the Majors. That, however, is where his advancement stalled.
Over the next three seasons, Gosewisch bounced between Double-A and Triple-A before the Phillies finally cut ties with him last year, trading him to the Blue Jays, where he finished out the remainder of 2012 after which he became a free agent.
After seven seasons with the same organization, Gosewisch easily could've called it quits on his baseball career. If he couldn't make it to the Majors with the team that invested so much time in him, where could he? Instead of giving up though, Gosewisch remained tuff.
"I just knew that I had the ability to play at the highest level," Gosewisch said. "I only have this opportunity once, so if I quit or I leave, then I'm not going to get another chance. So I was going to keep playing until they took my jersey away. That's how I looked at it."
Enter the D-backs. Gosewisch signed a Minor League contract for the 2013 season with Arizona and reported to camp in the spring just miles away from where he attended high school in Scottsdale. Although the club had already brought in a pair of veteran Major League catchers to compete for its backup job, Gosewisch felt the D-backs gave him the best opportunity to compete in the Minors in case there became a need again.
"They really believed that I could catch in the big leagues," Gosewisch said. "You need somebody that believes in you like that."
The newfound confidence and change in scenery proved to be a booming formula for Gosewisch. He had always been an above-average defender behind home plate, but it was his offense that kept him out of the show. In 66 games with Reno this year, Gosewisch hit a career-high .285 with six homers and 30 RBIs.
"Just getting different sets of eyes on you and getting a different perspective on what you're doing and what you can do to improve helps a lot," Gosewisch said. "It re-energizes you as a player."
The D-backs took notice of Gosewisch's development, and when the club placed Miguel Montero on the disabled list with a back injury, he was Arizona's choice to take the roster spot.
During his July 31 meeting with Butler in the Reno dugout, Gosewisch couldn't contain his emotions once he heard the words "big leagues." His nearly decade-long pursuit was finally over.
"I was just ecstatic and started hugging everybody," he said. "It was about exactly what I thought it would be; it was one of the best feelings I've ever had. Just thinking about how long I've been playing and the excitement that it really had on me was a lot. It felt good."
The next day, at 29 years, 349 days old -- just 16 days shy of his 30th birthday -- Gosewisch made his Major League debut Aug. 1 in Texas. Batting ninth and catching his teammate from Reno, Zeke Spruill, Gosewisch went 1-for-3, singling up the middle in his last at-bat of the day for his first career hit.
"When we were batting in the top of the first, I had a lot of butterflies," Gosewisch said. "But once we got out there on the field and I got focused on the game, I felt like I settled in. I tried to soak it all in, but at the same time, I'm a competitor, so that's what ultimately took over."
In just the week since he got the callup, the outpouring of support for Gosewisch has been strong. Pat Murphy, his coach at ASU and current manager of the Padres' Triple-A affiliate, called him a "self-made big leaguer," while All-Stars Ian Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia, also former Sun Devils, expressed their excitement as well.
"Both of those guys were great. They told me that they were proud of me and to keep doing what I'm doing," Gosewisch said. "They said it was a long time coming, so hopefully things keep going well and I see those guys a lot."
The kind words didn't just come from people from his past. His new teammate, D-backs catcher Wil Nieves, who spent parts of seven seasons in the Minors before reaching the big leagues, also had kind words for the backstop.
"I'm so happy for him," Nieves said. "I know how hard it is when every game means everything. You have to earn it. But I think when that happens, you appreciate it more. That's what he's going to do. He's going to work hard because he knows how hard this opportunity is to come by."
Although he hasn't made his Chase Field debut yet, Gosewisch expects it to be just as memorable as his first game. Born and raised in the Valley, he'll be thrilled to share the moment with loved ones.
"It's hard to duplicate that first game, but being here at home in front of my friends and family, when that happens, it's going to be a dream come true," Gosewisch said.
Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.