Last year the Rainiers used several catchers throughout the season. This season those guys are all gone and the backstops at the beginning of 2010 - Josh Bard and Eliezer Alfonzo - are both new to the organization. Baseball writer Karen Westeen interviewed the 32-year old switch-hitting Bard, who was signed as a minor-league free agent from the Washington Nationals in January.
TW: Where do you call home in the off-season?
JB: I was born in Ithaca, NY, but my family moved to Colorado when I was five months old, so that's where I grew up and went to school. My wife and our three children and I live in Denver in the off-season.
TW: You graduated from Cherry Creek High School in Denver and so did a couple of other major league players.
JB: Brad Lidge and I played together there and we won two state championships. We only lost one game when I was there. It's always been known as a team that's done well. David Aardsma went there too, but not at the same time as I did.
TW: What about college?
JB: I attended Texas Tech, but I did not graduate. I'm about two semesters short because I left early for the draft (in 1999.) I'll have to make a decision about finishing when I'm done playing.
TW: You have traveled the country and even to some foreign countries with baseball. Where have you played?
JB: I was drafted by Colorado and played in their minor league system for two years, then I was traded to Cleveland mid-2001, and was in that organization until 2005. I also played three years for San Diego, a few games with the Red Sox and last year I was with the Washington Nationals.
TW: And you played with Team USA as well?
JB: I played with Team USA for five tours, starting when I was 17. I started playing in 1997 right after the Olympics, then they brought in a rule in 2000 that major league players couldn't be in the Olympics so I missed the Olympics both times.
TW: You are also connected with something called the International Baseball Athletic Federation's Athletes' Commission. What is that?
JB: When you're around Team USA for that long, you get asked to go with the IBAF to help extend the game to different countries that don't already have it. Paul Siler is the Federation's head and he's a good friend of mine. It provided me the opportunity to play with them and travel the world. One of the places I played was Holland.
TW: Right now you are the only switch-hitter on the Rainiers. When did you start?
JB: I started switch-hitting in eighth grade. My brother played professional baseball with Bend in the independent Northwest League and he thought it would give me an advantage over other guys. It's paid off.
TW: You made your major league debut with Cleveland on Aug. 23, 2002. That was quite a game for you.
JB: It was quite a memorable game, because I got two hits - a single and the game-winning walk-off home run. It was very exciting to be able to share it with family and friends. And I got another home run the next day, but not a game winner. It seems like a long, long time ago. (Bard played 24 games with Cleveland that season, and hit only one more home run. He was the first player to hit a game-ending home run in his major-league debut since Bill Parker of the Angels did it in l971.)
TW: That game was in Cleveland. Who was the opponent?
JB: The Mariners. There was a rain delay at the beginning, and it was very cold.
TW: In 2003 you were the Indians' opening-day catcher and then split the season between the major league team and triple A Buffalo.
JB: Being on the opening-day roster was quite an honor. I've had a lot of ups and downs and I'm grateful for everything baseball has taught me and provided for my family.
(It must have taught Bard patience because he only played 57 games in 2004. He was out for the first 11 weeks of the season with a lower abdominal muscle strain and then had to have surgery on a sports hernia in mid-April. In 2005 he was healthy all season and spent his first full season with a major league team, Cleveland. The next year he was traded twice, to Boston in January and then to San Diego on May 1. He spent nearly three seasons with San Diego, from May 2006 through 2008.)
TW: You had some interesting experiences with San Diego. One of them had to do with Barry Bonds.
JB: I was the catcher who called the pitch that Bonds hit out for his record-tying home run. It was in San Diego so there wasn't any kind of celebration.
TW: And you were in the postseason for the first time.
JB: I was in the playoffs with San Diego two straight years (2006-07). Anytime you have success with a team that's the goal. It was a good time.
TW: And then you changed teams again before the 2009 season, signing with the Washington Nationals during spring training.
JB: Yep. The Bard traveling circus just keeps going.
TW: How did you wind up with the Mariners' organization?
JB: I was signed as a minor league free agent in January.
TW: When you got to spring training with the Mariners did you know anyone?
JB: I knew a few players, and I make friends pretty quickly.
TW: How do you like playing here at Cheney Stadium?
JB: Obviously the park is old but it's a great place to play. As long as you've got the jersey on your back be grateful and keep playing.
TW: Do you think you are going to make a bigger contribution to the team with your offense or your defense?
JB: My first goal is to get these pitchers to where they can be. When I'm healthy I know what I can do. When the team gets off to a slow start you have to just let it play out. It's a long season.
TW: You are in your 11th season of professional baseball. Have you thought at all about what you might do when your playing career is over?
JB: I've thought about it but I'm only 32. When that time comes my wife and I will talk about it. I definitely want to work when I'm done, but I'm not sure if I want to be in the game or not. My majors in college were communication and kinesiology. I could go into coaching or broadcasting - I've definitely got the face for radio.
TW: You and your wife have three children. How old are they?
JB: Five, 3 and 10 months.
TW: Are they here?
JB: Yes, we're together all year round. During the season we live in Kent. My wife (Lindsey) is a teacher. The kids are in school during the winter and she home-schools them once we get to spring training. We've been married 10 years. She's quite an amazing gal. All her extended family lives in Lakewood. She's been trying to get us here for a while. This is a beautiful place.
TW: Do you have hobbies or anything special that you like to do during the off-season?
JB: My son is into every sport imaginable, and our little girl likes to dance. When you become a parent their hobbies become your hobbies.
TW: What do you look back on as the highlight of your career so far?
JB: Definitely being in the playoffs with San Diego. At the beginning of the year 25 guys set off with a goal and then saw it come to fruition. Team-oriented stuff is more important than individual stuff, which just comes and goes.
TW: When Cliff Lee was here for his rehab start April 25 you caught him. You two were together in Cleveland and Buffalo (Cleveland's triple-A team) also so that was not your first time working together. Do you think this gave him a comfort zone in his first start of the season?
JB: We worked together for a couple years in Cleveland, so we knew each other but I've caught a couple Cy Young winners and they were really good before I caught them and they were really good after. You've got to have good stuff to get guys out. I think he threw about 80 percent of his pitches where he wanted them to be. (Even though) his command was a little bit off, he creates a lot of deception with his pitches. Obviously it's going to be a big addition to the Mariners to have him back.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.