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Boscan realizes dream after 14 years11/09/2010 10:00 AM ET
By Ashley Marshall / Special to MLB.com
At first glance, the Atlanta Braves' 11-5 home loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Oct. 1 appeared pretty insignificant.
Insignificant, that is, unless you're Jean Carlos Boscan.
In the first game of their final homestand of the regular season, the Braves trailed by five runs after the sixth inning and by nine heading to the bottom of the eighth.
Moments later, Boscan -- on a big league field during the regular season for the first time since he became a professional at the age of 17 -- was officially a Major Leaguer.
After 14 years, almost 1,000 games and more than 3,000 at-bats in the Minor Leagues, the Venezuelan catcher will always be able to look back on that humid Friday night in front of 51,000 fans at Turner Field and say, "I did it."
"It was really exciting," Boscan told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "I don't have a word to describe what I felt.
"I think I was more nervous to be in the on-deck circle than when I stepped up in the batter's box. I was looking at everybody, looking at myself standing right there. It was pretty exciting. I took a deep breath and I said, 'Wow, I just had my first inning caught and my first AB with a walk. And I said, 'Thank you, God.'"
Braves director of player development Kurt Kemp said there are few players in the game more deserving of the callup.
"He is the type of person that you love having in your organization," Kemp said. "He is committed to excellence, he's loyal, he plays the game the way it's designed to be played and he gives you everything he has every day that he is out there. He fits every criteria you might ever want to use for a 'Braves-type' guy."
Boscan entered the game as a defensive replacement for Brian McCann, catching rookie left-hander Mike Minor, who'd spent five weeks with Boscan at Triple-A Gwinnett earlier in the season.
After the nerves of flashing the signs in his debut had subsided, Boscan got his first at-bat in The Show. He swung over a low slider, then laid off two fastballs to get ahead, 2-1. He missed a fastball up and away to even the count but took a curveball in the dirt to work it full. With the runners going, Boscan fouled off a middle-in fastball before drawing a seven-pitch walk on a 92 mph pitch below the knees.
Jogging to first base, he was applauded by teammates watching from the dugout railing. Boscan came around to score Derrek Lee's double to right-center field.
"J.C. Boscan is one of the guys you root for in the game of baseball," Gwinnett Braves manager Dave Brundage said. "Having put in the time, the effort, the sweat and the tears, it's certainly quite an accomplishment, and it speaks volumes about him as an individual.
"It was a proud moment. I live vicariously through the players -- we all do -- and certainly these are proud moments. Rewards are hard to come by at the Minor League level, but this speaks for itself. I had very little to do in teaching him the game, but I'm proud to say that I was part of it."
Boscan was signed by Atlanta as a 16-year-old free agent in July 1996. He began his professional career the following year in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and was promoted to the Appalachian League in 1998.
Boscan played almost 200 games for Class A Macon in the South Atlantic League between 1999-2000 and got his first taste of the Carolina League with Myrtle Beach as a 21-year-old in '01.
Despite the progress Boscan was making, there were holes in his game. He batted .223 over his first five seasons, averaged fewer than five homers and struck out twice as often as he walked.
Kemp, a scout for the Braves for nine years before becoming director of player development in 2007, came to the organization a year after Boscan. He praised not only his defense but the intangible qualities he possesses.
"He has got a plus-plus arm and he's a good receiver, but it's not only the things you can measure like fielding percentage and arm," Kemp said. "It's also the way that he handles a pitching staff.
Undeterred by his offensive limitations, Boscan kept improving his fundamentals as he moved among Atlanta affiliates at an alarming rate -- he played at three levels in both 2002 and 2003 before finally getting some extended playing time with Triple-A Richmond in 2004.
After five games and 20 at-bats in the International League over the previous two years, Boscan embraced the opportunity to be back. He hit .311 during his third stint in Richmond.
"He has strong leadership skills and he has the respect of the pitchers because of his work ethic and because of the pride he takes in calling a good game," Brundage said. "He is capable of hitting home runs, not very often, but at the same time he gives you a pretty good at-bat and he'll compete no matter what his batting average says.
"His bread and butter -- his strength -- is his arm, calling a game and being a good leader among his pitching staff. I have a lot of pitchers that always want J.C. They say, 'Can I have J.C. catching me tonight?' and they tell me they always seem to be on the same page as him, that they are always working in sync."
With four catchers on the roster, including a young McCann, Boscan's chances of getting a callup to the Majors were slim. But he did little to help himself in '05 after batting .222 with three homers and 20 RBIs.
Boscan honed his skills in the Venezuelan Winter League before becoming a free agent. And, after nine years in the Atlanta system, he signed with Milwaukee in 2006 and jumped to Cincinnati a year later. He returned to the Braves as a free agent in 2008.
"Very rarely does a player come back to the same organization," Brundage noted. "You see it at the big league level, possibly where somebody comes back home, but from a Minor League standpoint you rarely see someone come back to the same organization on their own choice.
"Obviously, it showed what he felt about the Braves, but at the same time it showed what the Braves felt about him, not just as a player but as a person."
While his offensive struggles continued, Boscan remained a fine backstop. He led Southern League catchers with a .997 fielding percentage after committing only two errors in 652 chances. He also threw out a league-leading 33 would-be basestealers (.413).
Blooming late, Boscan had one of his strongest seasons as a 29-year-old in 2009. He batted .259 with 16 doubles, 32 RBIs and 25 runs scored over a career-best 86 games. He started the Southern League All-Star Game and played well enough to earn a spot on Brundage's Opening Day roster in 2010, just the second time in his Minor League career he started the year at Triple-A.
Following a slow start to the 2010 campaign that saw him share catching duties with Clint Sammons, Boscan hit .288 after the All-Star break. He finally found himself in the right place at the right time to get the promotion he'd dreamed about since he was a teenager.
"It was very emotional, one of the most emotional moments of my managerial career. There wasn't a lot of words spoken," Brundage said.
"I had thought about it for two weeks. I had thought about what I was going to do, how I was going to mess with him. And you know what, after 14 years of being around the game, there's not a lot you can say because you're not going to fool them."
Boscan was the last of the seven promoted players Brundage spoke with -- and he called his coaching staff and scouts into the office for the special announcement.
"All I did was make eye contact with him," he recalled, "and all I said was, 'J.C., how long have you been in the game?' That was all I could say, really. J.C. looked up with tears in his eyes and he tried to answer the question that I just asked, but he couldn't even get the '14 years' out of his mouth.
"That tells you how much the game means to him because it was probably the hardest two words he has probably ever had to say. He had tears running down his face, tears in his eyes and he tried the best that a grown man could. It was a very emotional day and arguably one of the best times that I have had to tell a young man that he is going to the big leagues."
The promotion was testament to the work ethic and perseverance of someone who played 976 games for 12 teams at every level from Rookie ball to Triple-A.
"You don't play 14 years as a backup catcher and play 14 years in the Minor Leagues by being perturbed," Brundage said. "As far as clichés are concerned, good things do happen to good people. ... Maybe J.C. is just hitting his stride."
While the Braves enjoyed depth behind the plate, it was only a matter of time before Boscan could call himself a Major Leaguer, Kemp added.
"We have two tremendous guys in Brian McCann and David Ross right now, and before that we had Javy Lopez. In this game, it is just when the opportunity arises," he said. "And for some, it takes longer than others.
"His perseverance does not surprise us because we see it every day and we see it in the way that he works and takes the role he is given. He is the kind of person that will always succeed."
One inning in the field and one plate could conjure memories of Moonlight Graham. But Boscan was able to have his mother, father, wife, brother and sister at Turner Field for the big moment.
"I spoke to him the next day and I gave him a hug," Brundage said. "It's funny because I throw batting practice to him every day. Whether it's for five minutes or 15 minutes or whatever it might be, he has a thing where he enjoys taking a little batting practice off of a left-hander, and I throw left-handed BP.
"So it seemed very fitting that he was going to make his Major League debut against a left-hander. After all those hours of batting practice, it came down to one at-bat against a Major Leaguer at the big league level. And I said to him, 'Boy, that's the best walk I've ever seen in my whole life.'"
Kemp was equally proud of Boscan.
"For those of us in player development that know him and watched him get 3,000 at-bats in almost 1,000 games, to say that he was a Major League player is a tremendous source of pride for all of us.
"We were all thrilled for J.C. and for him to get in a game and officially be a Major League player. There's not a person on our player development staff that does not have tremendous respect for what J.C. has done in terms of the way he has persevered and in terms of the person he is."
Once the season ended, however, Boscan was dropped from the Braves' 40-man roster and sent outright to Gwinnett.
"He's back to the same drawing board like he's done every single year," Brundage said. "He's had to fight for every single thing that has come his way. He was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel and now that light is just that little bit closer."
"Whatever the future holds for J.C. Boscan, I know that he is going to go about it with nothing but a professional manner in the best way he knows to try and be the best that he can be," Kemp added.