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He cleaned their cleats -- now he's one of them

Joseph makes journey from clubhouse attendant to Major Leaguer
@SteveGilbertMLB
April 15, 2019

PHOENIX -- When he was signed by the D-backs in Spring Training, veteran catcher Caleb Joseph walked into the team’s Salt River Fields facility and one of the first people he saw was bullpen catcher Humberto Quintero. Quintero’s face flashed recognition. He knew he had seen Joseph somewhere before. “Do

PHOENIX -- When he was signed by the D-backs in Spring Training, veteran catcher Caleb Joseph walked into the team’s Salt River Fields facility and one of the first people he saw was bullpen catcher Humberto Quintero.

Quintero’s face flashed recognition. He knew he had seen Joseph somewhere before.

“Do you remember me?” Joseph asked.

“You’re the clubbie from Nashville!” Quintero said.

***

To understand, you’ll have to go back to 2004 at old Greer Stadium where the Triple-A Nashville Sounds used to play. It was a home away from home for Joseph, who started going to games there with his grandfather when he was around 7. Joseph was fascinated by the game on the field rather than the distractions off it and he would insist they stay until the final out was made.

That’s what he was doing as an 18-year-old in 2004, sitting in the rain in the first row behind the Nashville on-deck circle in the eighth inning. A high school player at the time, Joseph sat close so he could hear what the players were saying, how they got ready for their at-bats.

Suddenly, the Sounds' clubhouse manager called out to him. He had seen Joseph at the ballpark on an almost nightly basis and asked him for help. His assistant hadn’t shown up. It was a travel day and he needed help getting the Sounds packed up.

“As soon as the game was over, I hopped the fence and was in the clubhouse,” Joseph said. “He shows me how to pack a bag -- cleats first, batting gloves in the side pocket, fold all the clothes and stack them. Just the way he wanted it done. I paid attention to detail and I just busted my rear and just tried to pack them as quickly and as efficiently as possible.”

Joseph did such a good job that the other assistant was let go and he was hired. When Joseph's high school baseball scheduled allowed, he would work in the clubhouse. Sometimes, that involved playing in his own game at 4 p.m. and then hustling to the Sounds’ game afterwards.

He went on grocery runs, helped prepare the meals, did the laundry, folded towels and cleaned the cleats. Whatever needed doing, he did, and along the way he got an education in the game he loved.

“I just wanted to be around professional baseball because that was my dream since I was 3 or 4 years old,” Joseph said. “It provided me with the opportunity to see the insides of the game. How guys went about their business, how they worked, what they ate, what they wore to the field. I was into all that stuff. I wanted to be just like them.”

Joseph got to experience a trade firsthand when a player with the visiting Portland Beavers named Henri Stanley was traded during batting practice and needed a ride to the airport. Joseph still has the Portland hats that Stanley, who is now a player agent, gave him on the ride.

When he went on to play at nearby Lipscomb University, Joseph spent a couple of months as the Sounds' bullpen catcher. During the winters, some of the professional players living in the area would come by the Lipscomb gym and throw bullpen sessions to Joseph during his break in classes.

Selected by the Orioles in the seventh round of the 2008 Draft, Joseph grinded out six-plus years in the Minors before making his big league debut on May 7, 2014. Also in the Baltimore lineup that night was an All-Star outfielder named Adam Jones.

Joseph and Jones, now teammates again with the D-backs, first met each other in 2006 when Jones was playing with the Tacoma Rainers and they came through Nashville for a series.

“Washed his laundry, hung his jockstrap, cleaned his cleats,” Joseph said. “Fast forward seven years later, we’re playing together in Baltimore in the big leagues. It’s pretty cool.”

Jones said he believes the experience of being a clubhouse attendant is one of the reasons Joseph is so great at relating to everyone in the game.

If anything, it’s given Joseph perspective.

“I try and keep my area as tidy as possible knowing that when we come in after a game and everything is completely straightened up, that doesn’t happen by magic,” Joseph said. “It’s somebody inside the clubhouse working. People think that Major Leaguers wear new cleats every game. They don’t. It’s the hard work of the clubhouse attendants that make those things look brand new.

"I have the utmost respect for everybody that works in a clubhouse because I’ve done it. It’s not easy work, but it’s extremely gratifying when the ballclub wins.”

Steve Gilbert has covered the D-backs for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.