Mike Zunino Behind the Plate - Johnny Bench Comp, 2
Now if we can only find Don Gullett. Oh wait: he was at AFL too


Agility.  Inside Pitch used to talk constantly about a catcher's feet.  It's what got ex-hockey-goalie Dan Wilson his job in the big leagues.

First of all, Johnny Bench  (the young Bench; later he sat up more) would take that casual, comfortable, super-low crouch with loose shoulders and then when he stood up out of it, it was as if he weighed only 160 lbs.  Zunino's like that:  he weighs 220, but he rises up out of his crouch much more easily than John Jaso does.

A lefty pitcher threw a slider to a LH batter in, what, the 8th inning of the AFL Rising Stars game, and the pitcher yanked it way outside.  The ball short-hopped about one foot outside Zunino's left shin guard.  This is a ball that has about a 70% chance of going by Miguel Olivo or Jesus Montero, that nasty little super-short hop right outside the foot.  

Zunino simply tilted his entire body wayyyyyyyy left, so that his legs were in a Yoga "runner's pose" position, scooped it, and immediately skidded his right leg over on his shin while keeping his chest protector square to the pitcher and his spine pointed directly up.  Absolutely picture-perfect aikido movement:  Top half sitting on a tractor motionless, bottom half scurrying around lightly. 

When Zunino moves, he moves his weight, not just his hands.  He moves himself.  He doesn't grab.  He blends. 

What else that was aiki there:  Zunino, after easily short-hopping it, bent his head over his vertical spine, touching the palm of his glove directly to his belly button, cradling the ball like a baby.  

Wish we had a picture.  In real time it was eye-popping; in slo-mo it was 3rd dan aikido.  It's not just blocking a ball; it's the graceful, friendly interaction with the incoming energy that I loved.  Mike Zunino just flat enjoys catching.


Arm.  I didn't get a chance to see Zunino throw the ball down to second base.  That's like saying you went to see Ted Williams hit, and he didn't swing at anything.  Ah, well.  Into every life a little rain must fall.

When Zunino caught a pitch and flipped the ball back to the pitcher, loose shoulders, "I'm too overqualified for this task; couldn't we get the umpire to do it?," it caused me to think of John Bench.  One thing, though, the return throws were all over the place; Greg Maddux would have replaced Zunino mid-game.

Zunino used an interesting motion to throw down to 3B after a strikeout; it was a quarterback's throwing motion.  1-2 step up in the pocket and then ... if you want a description of what the throw looked like, well ... go watch a quarterback throw.  Left elbow high, pause at the top, shoulders perpendicular for a poster pose, lean head forward a little, SSNNAPP, right foot comes through, yada yada.

Bench used to enjoy showing off his arm on the last throw of the pitcher's warmup before the inning.  He liked to throw hard, took extra chances to zing the ball somewhere.





Hey, Jeff, here's a video link that I used back in the original "Who's Afraid of Mike Zunino" article (3/30/12):
Lame local sportscaster cliches: 5 (conservative estimate)
Zunino home runs: 2
Zunino gun-down of baserunner at second: 1
And we can't forget one of the most epic quotes ever, from a scout to Churchill, related to Zunino's arrival in Jackson:

Zunino is already the leader of this team. That seems to have taken place about four seconds after he got here.

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