By Sawyer Milam
SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — Having to replace one of the best defensive catchers in Cal Poly history is no easy task, but junior catcher Myles Emmerson has been a steady force behind the plate this season.
Last year, Emmerson appeared in 22 games, including 16 starts and posted a .322 batting average highlighted by his best hitting performance where he went 4-for-4 against Michigan. Emmerson is replacing — and learned a lot — from the 2018 Big West Defensive Player of the Year in Nick Meyer, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2018 MLB Draft.
Being able to learn from Meyer has helped Emmerson develop his game to another level as he now takes on a bigger role with the team.
"He showed me how to handle myself as a college athlete. He picked apart my game everyday, helped me get better, showed me how to be a leader and a role model to all the younger kids," said Emmerson. "It's nice having my time and being able to use everything he showed me and help our team. I definitely got a lot better just being around him over the years."
Taking on the starting catching role hasn't been easy and Emmerson has been putting in a lot of work in the batting cages and weight room in order to get in the best shape possible.
"Getting in game shape is probably the biggest thing. Catching three days a weekend is pretty tough," said Emmerson. "Usually by the third day, your legs are pretty gassed, so getting into that game shape is huge."
The relationship between a catcher and pitcher is a complicated one as every pitcher responds in different ways. Emmerson's biggest focus is making sure that, if his pitcher is in a tough spot, he's able to find a way to help him get through the inning.
"Knowing your pitcher. You have to know what stuff is good that day, what kind of clicks for them, what you have to say to each guy and help them get through the inning so it's up to us to get us back in the dugout," Emmerson said.
With a dozen new members on the team, Emmerson has stepped up as a leader on the team for the younger guys and has gained a lot of confidence in his abilities as a player.
"Now I'm able to talk to guys, help the pitchers out whatever they need. I'm able to point stuff out in guys' swings if they aren't feeling it and just helping everyone get better — that's my biggest goal. If we're all good, we can be a really good team this year," said Emmerson. "They just have to slow the game down, especially being a young guy. It can speed up on you, but you just have to realize it's baseball. We've playing our whole lives. Nothing changes. Just have fun."
The team has gotten off to another slow start, but a four-game sweep of Columbia has given the team a lot of confidence going forward and Emmerson knows that the team will turn things around.
"We're one of the closest teams I've ever been a part of. Obviously not the start we wanted, but I'm not worried. I know that we will pick it up and we will start playing how we usually play once we loosen up," Emmerson said.
Emmerson's advice to the team is to continue to show improvement and get better every day. He believes that if the team focuses on that, then the wins will eventually come.
"We can't really worry about results, but if we get better every day, chances are we have a good shot at making an NCAA Regional and then we can just go from there," Emmerson said.
Cal Poly has one of the toughest schedules this season and, despite not winning as many games as hoped, Emmerson thinks the challenges will pay off in the long run.
"I think it will help us a lot. It's good to see high-level competition. We like to play up to that level always. Whenever we play a team below our level, we want to stay at the highest level we can. Playing these good teams is something that will help us with that," Emmerson said.
All Emmerson wants to do this season is help the team win in whatever way he can, whether that's providing offense at the plate or being a wall defensively. Emmerson prides himself on being a great defensive catcher and says the best part of his game is his ability to frame pitches.
"I love being able to just steal strikes, that pitch that's off the plate a little bit or low a little and stick that. Seeing the hitter complain is probably my favorite thing as a catcher," Emmerson said.
By being a catcher, Emmerson has an advantage at the plate because he knows what pitchers are looking for during at-bats.
"I think being able to hit the ball wherever it's pitched is probably the strongest part of my game and being a catcher helps with that because I kind of know what pitchers like to do on certain counts," said Emmerson. "I'm always looking for something, but if I don't get that pitch, I'm able to adjust and still get a piece of the ball. I don't like to swing and miss, so that's what I take pride in most."
One of his favorite catchers to watch was Jeff Mathis, who has played in the Major Leagues for 13 seasons with four different teams. Emmerson has tried to pick up on things Mathis does well.
"I always really liked the way Jeff Mathis caught. He's not a big hitter but a really good catcher. He stuck a lot of balls, threw a lot of guys out and, from what I've heard, he's always been one of the best defensive catchers in the big leagues. There's a lot to show for it, so I just like looking at good catchers like him and incorporating some of the things he does into my game," Emmerson said.
Emmerson played a huge role in helping Cal Poly sweep Columbia. He was able to keep the game tied at 1 with a heads-up defensive play to send the game into extra innings, where the team eventually won on a walk-off.
"I just want to win. That's my main goal, whatever I can do to help the team win, whether that's stick my nose into a ball, that's what I gotta to. I like to win. That's my number one goal," Emmerson said.
Sawyer Milam is a senior journalism major from Sacramento, Calif.