By Greg Klein
---- — After spring training in Arizona, Phil Pohl said he finds Wisconsin to be a lot like home.
“It reminds me of Cooperstown,” Pohl said hours before the home opener for his Class A team, the Beloit (Wis.) Snappers. “It’s a little chilly up here playing baseball right now. It is quite a change from Arizona where it was in the 80s or 90s every day. But it is nothing that I haven’t played in before.”
Pohl, a 2008 Cooperstown Central School and 2012 Clemson University graduate, just completed his first professional spring training after being drafted by the Oakland A’s in the 28th round last June. Pohl worked in the minor-league camp, but he also spent two days being used as a warm-up catcher for batting practice before two A’s exhibition games.
“That was a great feeling,” Pohl said. “It feels great anyway, but then to be able to go over there and be on the same field as the major league team that was incredible.
“The first game was against the Angels, so you had Mike Trout and Albert Pujols standing over there,” he continued. “Then to sit in the bullpen the whole game and listen to the big league pitchers talk about the game, that was a learning experience.”
Pohl said that his intention had been to make a full-season team, which he accomplished with the Snappers.
“I wanted to be with a full-season team, and that is what Beloit is,” he said. “We’ve got two catchers with Bruce Maxwell and I, so if one of us is catching, the other one is warming up or doing batting practice. It is pretty busy, but that’s what I expected.
“I can’t complain. It is a lot of work, but it is a really great job to have,” Pohl said.
Maxwell, who is also 22, was drafted in the second round of the 2012 draft from Birmingham Southern. He has been the Snappers’ starting catcher with Pohl filling in every three or four days. Maxwell, a left-handed hitter, is the DH when Pohl catches. Pohl batted .250 in his first three games.
Pohl said that he does have some dreams about returning to the Vermont Lake Monsters of the New York Penn League. He played there for three games after being drafted before moving on to the Arizona Rookie League.
“Playing in Vermont was really cool since it was so close to home,” Pohl said. “Obviously my long-term goal is not to play with Beloit or Vermont, but to play in Oakland.
“The thing is, you never know where you are going to end up for the season,” he continued. “Wherever they have an opening is where you go.”
A few days after saying those words, Pohl proved to be a prophet. Catcher Nick Rickles, a 14th round selection in the 2011 draft from Stetson College, was sent down to Beloit from Class AA Midland. To make room for Rickles, Pohl was sent back to Arizona to catch in extended spring training.
Major league players who are late signees or start the season on the disabled list often end up staying for extended spring training. For a catcher, extended spring training can be considered a compliment, as Pohl will work with pitchers from the A’s and their other minor league teams. Pohl could stay there for the spring, get another assignment or be back in Beloit in a matter of days.
“It is all part of the experience,” Pohl said. “I wake up and every day this is my job.”