Rob Brantly was five years old when his grandfather bought him his first set of catcher's gear. Brantly said he slept in it that night.
John Paul Brantly, a former catcher in the Panamanian baseball league who passed away the same year his grandson was drafted out of high school, always told his Rob the easiest way to make it to the big leagues would be behind the plate.
Tuesday night, the 23-year old San Diego native will make his major league debut for the Marlins doing exactly that -- catching ace Josh Johnson and batting eighth in the lineup for manager Ozzie Guillen.
Brantly said there is no doubt his late grandfather's voice will still be in his ear come game time.
"I always think I carry him with me," Brantly said. "I always hear his voice saying 'Hey Robby hit that ball with authority.' I'd get up there and swing and tell him, 'I hit it with authority.'"
Hitting with authority of course is something Marlins catchers haven't done this season. The combined averages of John Buck and Brett Hayes, sent down Sunday to Triple A to allow Brantly the space on the roster to move up, was a major league-worst .190. Brantly has a .280 career batting average in the minors with 16 HRs and 124 RBI in 262 games. He was a .286 hitter in Triple A this season for both the Marlins and Tigers.
Tuesday, Guillen said his plan for Brantly is to give him an opportunity to play a lot, but also not completely put Buck on the backburner.
"We're going to take a look at the kid. It's our job to make the lineup and make sure the kid has plenty of game time," Guillen said. "On the other hand, we're not going to leave John on the bench. We're going to pick a spot to play him and try to have the kid catch everyone in the rotation. But in the meanwhile, Buck also has to play games. He's not going to be a backup. We're going to figure out how to do it. It's a little bit of a headache. But I have to respect Buck. He's a veteran player and I respect that. We're going to find out, make sure they have equal playing time and the kid has enough playing time to see what he can have."
Brantly said his parents, cousins and agent took a red-eye from Southern California to Miami on Monday to be here for his major league debut. He said his father, a former college catcher, was "hysterical" when he heard the news.
Brantly said he's received text messages from his former coaches with the Tigers and former teammate Nick Castellanos, a sandwich round pick from Archbishop McCarthy High in Broward County. Brantly said some Castellanos family were also coming to his debut.
As for who Brantly grew up admiring? Well, turns out his grandfather had an influence on that, too.
"Mickey Mantle," Brantly said. "My grandfather always had videos of hitters. He said 'You got to swing like this guy.'"
Guillen joked he'd welcome a Mantle-type bat in his lineup.
"I want the catcher to take charge. I want the catcher to be the leader on the field. I want him to have confidence. I want him to be himself," Guillen said of Brantly. "Hopefully, it works out and he'll have a long, brand new career and stay here for a long time."