Eric Haase, Mastering the Tools of Ignorance

The tools of ignorance is a longstanding euphemism in baseball for the catcher’s gear – mask, chest protector and shin guards. Various sources have credited the origin of this term to either longtime American League catcher Muddy Ruel, or Yankee Hall-of-Fame catcher Bill Dickey.
Regardless of its origin, the words create a strong sense of irony, as there is nothing about being a catcher that relies upon ignorance.

For Eric Haase High-A Lynchburg’s primary catcher, mastering the skills needed to excel at catching is his way of life. As of June 7th he has already caught 274 innings in 32 games played during the 2015 season. The job of catching can be a grind, but Haase plans his offseason so that he can maintain his health for each new baseball season.

“My offseason training is very intense from day one.” he says. “I just try to build up my body the best that I can, to maintain [my ability] at catching 100+ games each year.”

Drafted in 2011 out of Divine Child High School in Westland, Michigan, he was a Rawling’s First Team All-American that year before being drafted in the 7th round and giving up playing third base and becoming a full-time catcher.

“After the draft they [Cleveland] wanted me to stick behind the plate and that is where I have been ever since.”

Haase, at 5’10” 180 lb., looks the part of a catcher. He has a focused intensity that comes through on the field as he devotes himself to the art of catching. Mastering these skills will set him on a path for an opportunity to get to the big leagues.

Speaking with Hillcats manager, Mark Budzinski about Haase, he says “He plays the game very hard, the right way. He’s really grown as a catcher and leading the staff and that is really the most important things for us.”

Haase is still working on putting all the pieces together to develop that level of comfort that make both catching and hitting look as easy as riding a bicycle. Coming out of high school into the pro’s always takes some adjustment and even more so for catchers. Having to work at managing a pitching staff, where previously on an off day he may have played in the field, now he bends his attention to being focused on catching for his teammates and being a leader on the field each and every day.

He is passionate about catching and what it demands from those who choose to pursue time behind the dish.

“Having the whole game in front of you and being an important part of the team. Being the general back there, I really like that aspect of it.”

Part of his job is not just working with the pitchers on getting the hitters out, but also working with them when there are runners on base.

“It’s definitely shared.” he says about handling runners on base and what he and the pitcher want so he can have an opportunity to gun down any runner attempting to steal. “Be quick to the plate; give me a good chance to throw them out.”

So far this season he has gunned down 31.6% of runners who have attempted to steal while he was behind the plate. He prides himself on working well with the pitchers to keep runners from advancing.

When there is a runner on base he says it “depends upon the hitter and the runner on base. You’re not going to feed the hitter the best fastball.” Instead he collaborates with the pitcher to “focus on the pitcher’s strengths because you want the best pitch for that situation.”

Similar to working with the pitchers, he is the fielder who interacts most regularly the umpires. Oftentimes this requires good communication skills, trying to find the right way to let the umpire know you disagree with his call, but not prod his temper or get on his bad side.
“Being up front,” says Haase about working with the umpires, “not being confrontational or anything. You’re working with them back there. Talking to them as people, because they are not going to get everything right just as you are not going to get everything right.”

Coming into the 2015 season Haase looked to be a key part of a power-laden Hillcats lineup. That aspect of his game has not developed at the same pace as his catching skills. He had 16 homeruns for the Low-A Lake County Captains in 2014, but so far has only tallied three long balls in the 2015 season, batting primarily out of the sixth or seventh spot in the lineup.

Speaking about his hitting approach Haase is looking “not so much for a certain pitch, you know you always have to be ready for the fastball, just adjust to whatever they want to give you.”
Though his batting average only stands at .188, he has three triples and ten doubles to go along with his three homeruns to generate a .446 slugging percentage. He continues to work on both his defensive and offensive talents as a key player on the team.

As his catching talent develops he has the support of manager Mark Budzinski.

“He’s got some pop in his bat and has a good opportunity to one day play in the big leagues.” says Budzinski.

As the season wears on, Haase will continue to be the first guy out of the clubhouse, cutting his path to the dugout to put on his gear, heading down to the bullpen and getting that days starting pitcher warmed up and focused for the game. With no complaint he will continue his tireless efforts to master the tools of ignorance.

David Freier was born in Brooklyn New York in 1966 less than a decade after the Dodgers had departed the very same borough. His first professional baseball game was at Yankee stadium and to this day he and his father still argue over who started for the Orioles that day (his father says Mike Cuellar, while he insists it was Jim Palmer). Being a lover of underdogs he naturally became a Mets fan. He grew up in Montclair New Jersey which had the advantage of being home to two baseball legends, Yogi Berra and Larry Doby, as well as having a local college which regularly held baseball card conventions that fed his baseball card hobby. While attending college at the University of Richmond he and some of his friends attended a Richmond Braves game in the then (1985) brand new Diamond stadium, and now home to the Richmond Flying Squirrels. This began what has become a passion for the minor leagues of baseball. During his 10 years as a Richmond resident he and his future wife developed an affinity for the Braves, especially when Richmond fan favorite Francisco Cabrera scored the winning run to knock the Pirates from contention and vault the Braves into the World Series of 1991. During extensive travels he has rooted for the Minnesota Twins, Minneapolis Loons, St. Paul Saints, Iowa Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Erie Sea Wolves, Berkshire Bears and of course the Lynchburg Hillcats. To date he has visited over 110 different baseball parks in which he has seen a game. He joined the Society for American Baseball Research in 2000 and has been a member ever since, where he participates on the Biographical and Minor Leagues committees when time permits. In his day job he is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Science at Lynchburg College in Virginia.

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