IronBirds' Joseph feels right at home

July 21, 2008|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN REPORTER

Aberdeen IronBirds catcher Caleb Joseph came to town a little more than eight months ago, and he has already fallen in love. With Ripken Stadium, that is.

"I keep telling everybody it's such a nice park that there is really no incentive to move up," said Joseph, who turned 22 last month. "It's that nice. These people laughed, but our facilities here, the fans, the clubhouse, the actual playing surface, everything about this place is very professional, very major league."

Joseph said he is "spoiled rotten" to be on the Single-A IronBirds in his first professional season.

"We go on the road for four, five, six games, and we can't wait to get back here," said Joseph, 6 feet 3, 172 pounds, who has been catching only 2 1/2 seasons after being a middle infielder. "This is as close as it gets to the major leagues in A-ball. It rivals some Triple-A fields."

It trumps many of the other minor league ballparks Joseph has seen or played in, such as the home of the Nashville Sounds, the Milwaukee Brewers' Triple-A team.

"That place is a dump," Joseph said.

But Joseph was prepared to spend this summer as a bullpen catcher for the Sounds. That was before the Orioles made him a seventh-round selection in last month's draft. He had just completed his junior year at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., hitting a team-leading .342, with 17 homers and a .615 slugging percentage.

Joseph said many of his homers at Lipscomb were "way out" over the fence, unlike his first professional home run Wednesday night. It was an opposite-field line drive to right that "just crept right over the fence and felt more like a double at first."

The homer was part of a 5-for-5 night for Joseph, with the five hits tying a club record. He is hitting .300.

While his hitting is beginning to flourish, Joseph knows he needs work on his catching to reach the standards set by Matt Wieters, the Orioles' top minor league prospect at Double-A Bowie.

"Right now, in this organization, Matt Wieters is the man. He is the guy. He is going to be in the big leagues in a year and a half," Joseph said. "He is going to need a backup, and why not me? I'm hopefully going to bulk up a little and get to 190 [pounds]. I have the right frame to add weight. If I hit .260, .270, .280, who knows what will happen?"

william.free@baltsun.com

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