When you talk to Orlando Mercado there are a couple of things you have to clear up right away. Is it 'Orlando Mercado' or 'Orlando Mercado Jr'? "You can write it with 'Jr' but that's the baseball way, my name is Orlando Mercado." I tell him that I'm going to write it the way he wants it written, I'm a big believer that people know their own name, and his response is this, "You can write it with 'Jr.' if you want, that's the baseball way, everybody wants to be Jr."
That's the Orlando Mercado I talked to. He knows the situation, knows that there are two ways to look at everything. The baseball way, and the other way. Orlando Mercado looks at things the baseball way. It's no wonder, as he was quite literally brought up on a baseball field. His father, Orlando Mercado, is the bullpen coach for the Anaheim Angels, and played in the majors for eight seasons, often bringing his son with him to the park. At 19, he's one of the youngest players in the Diamondbacks organization, and he knows that in baseball, youth is an advantage.
He's also proud. I mistakenly use the word 'Dominican' instead of 'Latin' and don't even finish my question before he corrects me. "Puerto Rican." He says it not in anger, or with some sort of superior tone, but with pride. He's confident, but he knows he's still learning. He works hard, and he knows that as a catcher, knowing the game, the situation, and knowing the 'baseball way' is mandatory. For Mercado, it is in his blood.
You were the Diamondbacks 6th round pick in 2003, its your second season, how do you feel about your progression?
Last year I really didn't get much playing time. The team had a couple older catchers, so they had me on mostly as a bullpen catcher. I got experience watching and learning, but I was only 18, and now they're giving me a chance. I've been hitting the ball hard all year. I'm comfortable, I'm hitting about .260 now, I think by the end of the year I'll be at .280, that's my goal.
You were selected to the Northwest League All-Star Game, what was that like?
It felt good to be with all my teammates and get to know the other team, and I got to play on the best field in the Northwest League in Spokane. It was fun, and it was an honor, but really I just liked being able to relax and hang out with my teammates and meet new guys.
There are quite a few quality young catchers in the Diamondbacks organization, and they just acquired Koyie Hill from the Dodgers. Do you think that could hold you back?
I don't know. I can only control what happens in my league. It was a little frustrating because all the catchers [in the Northwest League] made the All Star team, so I was competing against all six catchers. It sort of felt like I had to do something right then, but they are all older, I'm only 19. I just go out and play hard and try to hit the ball hard and I don't worry about what the other catchers are doing.
The coaches trust me, and the pitchers trust me. As the beginning of the year I think it was tougher, because a lot of the pitchers I was catching were out there thinking they were going to pitch their game, but now they've got more confidence and are realizing that the league is tougher than they thought it would be. Really nobody shakes me off anymore, they just throw what I call, so they are gaining that confidence.
The tables have sort of been turned for you this year. Last year you played very little, had other catchers ahead of you, and this year the Diamondbacks drafted Daniel Pohlman out of Northwestern. You are sort of his mentor now, how have you helped him?
We help each other, I don't want anything bad to happen to him. There is competition, but really I want to help him, he'll ask me about hitters, what I'd do in situations, and I'll help him all the time. We're a team, he'll help me out and I'll help him out. There are times when I'll come to the dugout and he'll tell me I was doing something that I didn't even know I was doing. We're on the same page, both working with the coaches and pitchers, and both of us are getting better.
Who are some of the good arms you've caught?
AJ Shappi is one of the best starters on the team right now. He's got an amazing slider, a very good sinker, and he locates his pitchers really well. Garrett Mock got called up to South Bend, but he's got an enormous sinker and a really good slider, they are the two best.
Do you learn from the pitchers?
All the pitchers pitch differently, and all the pitchers try to get an idea of how to pitch to hitter. We have meetings before every game, me and the pitcher and [Pitching] Coach Vosberg, and talk about what are we doing with different hitters. The pitchers and I are getting more comfortable. At the beginning of the year I was making a lot of mental mistakes, but I'm getting better.
Do you call all the pitches?
Yeah, when there are runners on base we have different plays we'll run so I'll look over into the dugout, and sometimes I'll look over to see if the Coaches have any ideas, but most of the time they just say, "It's your game." It feels good to have the confidence of the coaches, and the pitchers.
Your father played in the majors. He was a career backup, and now he's become a hitting coach. Catcher is considered a training spot for future coaches, is that something you might be interested in for the future?
Definitely. I love the game so much and if I get older and couldn't play anymore if they gave me a chance to coach I'd love to follow in my dad's footsteps. But right now I'm young and I'm just trying to get better, but yes I'd coach, and I think I could be a good one.
Does your background help with other Latin players?
My background gives me an advantage, but more because of being around my father. I've been watching baseball since I was three years old and playing since I was 4. I've learned so much from my dad when he was a coach.
Do you talk to your father a lot?
He talks to me everyday, he keeps in touch and we talk about how I'm doing. He's been the best coach I've ever had, he always helps me and just tells me to keep swinging, keep working. He knows how tough this game is, and he does everything he can do to help me.