Christopherson Is Catching On -- Rookie Receiver Seeks Fast Track To Majors

Eric Christopherson knows that as a catcher he's positioned as a player least understood or appreciated by average baseball fans, but considered one of the most valuable in major-league organizations.

Christopherson, out of San Diego State, is the first-round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants. He began his professional career Monday night as the starting catcher for Everett, the Giants' Northwest League team.

Christopherson is confident his performances with Everett in the coming weeks will make him a hit with Giant fans, but most importantly, with team management. He'd like to follow the baseball trail one of his predecessors with Everett, Mike Grahovac, is taking towards a shot at major-league baseball.

Grahovac was a rookie-league catcher for Everett last season. But he was assigned earlier this month to San Francisco's Class A Clinton, Iowa, team in the full-season Midwest League.

Christopherson knows a longtime friend and former batterymate is confident he can pursue a path similar to that of Grahovac. That player is Brent Knackert, the Seattle Mariners' rookie pitcher. The two players were teammates in California high school winter and summer baseball.

``He feels good about me, that I can make it,'' Christopherson said.

But Christopherson knows he'll have to impress those in the Giant organization in the coming months before he can fulfill Knackert's prediction.

In contrast to Grahovac, Christopherson believes he has the critical background that may make his climb to the majors easier and quicker. Grahovac was a first baseman/outfielder/pitcher until the last 30 games of his junior year in college.

``I've been bred to be a catcher,'' Christopherson said.

In fact, the 21-year-old has caught for 10 years. ``My grandfather was a catcher and an uncle, who was drafted by the Dodgers in the 1960s but went into the Navy, was a catcher. They taught me a lot in youth ball and my style comes from that era.

``The way I use two hands (to catch), the way I set up and frame the ball are kind of a modern-day throwback to that style. And I'm not afraid to take a hit.''

Because of his background, Christopherson feels he needs to make few adjustments to do well on the professional level. He knows he'll have to learn the San Francisco terminology and style for a catcher as well as make the transition from the aluminum to wood bat.

``I think in two weeks I'll be used to everything here,'' Christopherson said.

``It's just baseball. The more repetitions and work here will make me better. I don't anticipate problems.''

But Christopherson is not so confident that he didn't take advantage of the limited time he had to learn as much as he could from Grahovac.

The ex-Everett catcher could impart much to Christopherson and other rookie catchers with the Giants.

Not only did he have the summer rookie-league experience, but he also gained added knowledge in recent months by playing and observing at the Giants' extended spring training camp in Arizona.

One of the biggest lessons Grahovac learned last summer in Everett was not to become discouraged by mistakes.

``If I struggled at bat, then I'd make an error behind the plate. That didn't help anybody,'' he said.

``I put a lot of pressure on myself last year. I wanted to show everybody that I could do everything. You have to play within your ability, relax, have fun.

``You've got to separate your offense from your defense. You have to call the pitches and call the game and learn to be friends with all the pitchers. You want your pitchers to look good and if they do, you'll do well, too.''

Most of what Grahovac learned last year was reconfirmed in spring training.

But he now puts a greater emphasis on the importance of communication with teammates, particularly pitchers.

``When I was through with my games every day, I had a chance to hang around the dugouts with the Triple-A teams. I saw the pitchers and catchers on the field, how they called the game, then how they discussed things between innings. And they'd talk away from the game, too,'' he said.

``I didn't think about baseball off the field last year because of not having a good season. But that's when you've got to work that much harder.''

San Francisco's management can only hope their newest crop of rookie catchers in Everett will learn the same lessons.

If that happens, the Giants may be in an enviable position.