- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2006

By the first day of the post-Livan Hernandez era, at least one change already had been made: On Tuesday, Jose Vidro moved into Livo’s corner locker kingdom in the Washington Nationals clubhouse.

The life of no National, though, changed more with the departure of Livo than that of catcher Brian Schneider.

And Livo likely will miss no one in Washington more than Schneider, who became the Montreal Expos’ starting catcher the same year Livo came to the franchise, in 2003.

Schneider grew as a major league backstop catching Hernandez, and likely no player has caught Hernandez in his nine years in the majors more than Schneider.

“He was great when I first started catching him,” Schneider said. “He helped me out a lot.”

The relationship between pitcher and catcher is like no other in baseball. They are joined at the seams, each player putting his success and failure in the hands of the other.

“A pitcher and catcher have to have trust in each other,” Schneider said. “It is not just about calling pitches but also them knowing they can throw a pitch and you’ll be able to block it. They have to have confidence in that. On the plane or in the clubhouse, the pitchers seem to get on the catchers more, and catchers seem to get on the pitchers. We are in battle together, and it is a different relationship.”

Some pitchers love certain catchers. Tim McCarver extended his career by serving as Steve Carlton’s personal catcher with the Phillies. Other relationships, though, are not so close. When McCarver was with the Cardinals early in his career, he walked to the mound to talk to Bob Gibson, who snarled at McCarver and colorfully told him to get back behind the plate.

Livo and Schneider were a little bit of both.

“Sometimes it was hard because you really had no idea what he might throw because he could call on so many different pitches at any time,” Schneider said. “But we got into a pattern and got to know each other, and I realized what he liked to throw and in what situations.

“He was very temperamental. Sometimes he got on me, but as the catcher, part of my job was to take the brunt of his wrath. Sometimes he would call me out to the mound when he didn’t think I was getting off the plate enough or getting inside enough. I didn’t take it personally. We would shrug it off and laugh about it afterward, about how he got on me, and then move on.”

Then there was the time Livo was named National League pitcher of the month. “He bought me a gift when he won that,” Schneider said. “He was very good to me.”

Livo had ultimate confidence in his abilities as a pitcher.

“The thing about Livo was that he never gave in to any hitters,” Schneider said. “He didn’t care if the umpire wasn’t giving him the pitch out there. He knew if he threw it out there on a regular basis, guys would end up swinging at it or the umpire would give him that pitch.”

He didn’t always give in to his catcher either.

“At times it was funny because he would have me move five or six inches off the plate, and he would throw a slider, and sometimes the ball would never get there,” Schneider said. “It would stay more on the plate, and the guy would get a hit. He would call me out there and tell me, ‘You’ve got to move more off the plate.’

“Sometimes I would be 12 inches off the plate when he would be throwing a breaking ball. The video would show that the pitch never got to where I was, but he thought it did.”

Now Schneider faces a completely different challenge: helping the ever-changing roster of pitchers the Nationals will put into the rotation the rest of the season now that Hernandez has been traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“What is tough about it is, you want the guys to pitch with what got them here, and I don’t know what got them here because I haven’t caught them,” he said. “So I tell them, ‘I don’t mind if you shake me off, and when we start having a pattern and finding what you are comfortable with, I’ll adjust the game to you. But if there is a situation where I know the hitter a lot better and I feel like there is a pitch to be thrown, I’ll put it down, and if you shake me off twice, then I will come talk to you about it.’

“You are caught in the middle because you know the hitters better than they do, but you don’t know the pitcher. I’ve been talking to a lot of these guys, and we’ll get on the same page eventually.”

They may get on the same page eventually.

But it will never be the same page as Livo, who probably is the most unique pitcher Brian Schneider ever will catch in his major league career.



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