Pro Perspective: Dave Watkins
Pro Perspective: Dave Watkins
- Philadelphia Phillies, 1969
The Early Years
David Roger Watkins was born on March 15th, 1944 in Owensboro, Kentucky.
He played high school ball at Owensboro Senior High School and college ball at nearby Kentucky Wesleyan College.
Watkins began his professional career at the age of 19 in the Detroit Tigers farm system.
A year later he was in the Philadelphia Phillies' system at the class A Bakersfield Bears.
Watkins toiled in the minors for parts of seven seasons, playing for teams such as the San Diego Padres (then a minor league team), the Macon Peaches, the Chattanooga Lookouts and the Reading Phillies.
In 1969, he'd finally get his shot in the big leagues.
With the 1969 Phillies
Watkins made his major league debut at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs on April 9, 1969.
He went on to play 69 games that year for the Phillies. Watkins caught 336 innings behind the plate that season, maintaining a .981 fielding percentage and a 39% caught stealing percentage.
He also played a handful of games in the outfield and one especially memorable game at third base, which you can read more about below.
In 148 at bats that season, Watkins collected 26 hits, hit four home runs, had 12 RBIs, and stole two bases.
Unfortunately, his single season with the 1969 Philadelphia Phillies would be his only one in the MLB.
After the '69 season, Watkins didn't play again in either the majors or the minors.
Instead, he finished his degree at Kentucky Wesleyan then went to medical school at the University of Louisville and became a physician.
Watkins would go on to practice medicine in the Louisville area.
Q&A with Dave Watkins
Dave Watkins is a former MLB catcher who has played on the same team with all stars like Dick Allen, Johnny Callison and Cookie Rojas.
A few weeks back, I sent Dr. Watkins a letter asking for input on his career and on the questions I typically ask former big league catchers.
He signed my 1970 Topps and he kindly took the time to provide some great answers to my questions.
Like others in our Pro Perspective series, I wanted to share Dr. Watkins' input with readers in the hope that his feedback will help catchers wanting to improve their game.
Here are the responses to my questions, as you can also read in the picture below.
Question 1: I am very interested to learn about your favorite memory from your playing career. Can you please expand on that?
Answer: Since I played only 1 full year in MLB, I don’t have a plethora of “favorite” memories, but I do have this one: We Phils were playing the Mets on a June evening under very complicated conditions.
We had 5 starting players absent due to injuries, 2-week summer military duties, and simply 1 who simply did not show up to play (!).
All “extra” players were in the game - the only players left on the bench were two catchers (Vic Roznovsky and I were, and the pitchers).
In the 1st inning after we had finished the 1st half (we were visitors), Cookie Rojas got tossed from an argument with an umpire.
The phone rang in the bullpen and Bob Skinner (the Phils’ manager) said, “Tell Watkins to get to 3rd base!”
The last time I played third was when I was 13 and was converted to catching because my batting average was higher than my fielding average!
The injured Tony Taylor loaned me his glove and told me to watch him and he would guide me during the game.
Because I had a partial plate with my 2 front teeth on it, I removed it, put in a cup and asked the trainer to put it in my locker - not wanting to take a bad hop (or misplaced ball) in the chops and break the prosthetic.
I made a couple of throws to 1st, loosened up, and trotted over to Rick Wise (pitcher) and told him “Don’t throw any change-ups to right handed hitters, and nothing outside to left handers!”
He grinned and replied “Got your cup on?” (All this dialogue leads up to my biggest thrill in baseball).
Fortunately, I only had to make two plays - two relatively easy 2-hop grounders, both slightly to my left and ended with 2 thrown strikes to the 1st baseman, Gene Stone (called up from Triple A sub at 1st [due to injuries]).
In the 5th inning, I hit my FIRST major league homer to bring us into a tie with the Mets. Then in the 11th inning, I hit a triple to dead center (about 1 foot short of flying over the 406 sign) and drove in what was to be the winning run!
The next day in the NY paper the sports headline in the baseball section said, “Toothless Catcher Puts Bite on Mets.”
Every dog has his day!!
Question 2: What do you think is the most important skill that a catcher should have?
Answer: Since the catcher has the whole game in front of him and since nearly (all) signals and plays emanate from him, he has to be aware!
I was taught in Jr. High by our P.E. teacher - “Head-up! Head-in! All-you-got. All-the-time!”
Head-up, know what’s in front of you, know where you’re headed.
Head in, understand what’s going on and your responsibilities in it.
All-you-got all-the-time, is almost self-explanatory, but basically, never let down!
Question 3: If you could give only one piece of advice to young catchers hoping to play at the next level, what would it be?
Answer: The catcher is the most defensive player on the field, defending against opposition hitting (and getting on base) by calling for pitches that minimize the hitters skills, defending against stolen bases, defending wildly thrown balls, and defending home plate.
Catching/blocking the ball is a skill that requires THOUSANDS of repetitions AND dedication to task and maintenance of those skills (by the way, so does hitting!!!)
In other words, any action (in any sport) requires REPETITION! And, that repetition must be done with correct technique - just like learning to listen to heartbeats!!!
Key Takeaways from His Answers
A few points here. First, Dr. Watkins’ has great handwriting for a physician.
Second, his story about playing third base during a June 1969 game at Shea Stadium against the eventual World Series-winning New York Mets is amazing and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
Thirdly, two things stand out to me about his response to the catching-specific questions.
A catcher needs to be mentally focused and aware of the game’s dynamics at all time because of his or her role in controlling the game. This is something young catchers need to grow in and sharpen.
Additionally, as a young catcher you need to realize and accept the fact that you will be going through countless drills (e.g., repetition) for many years to get to a point of excellence behind the plate.
If you’re serious about playing at high levels of the game, then be prepared to put in some serious hours practicing.
Thanks for Reading
We hope that you enjoyed reading this and that you have learned something from it! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us.