SCRANTON, PA. — At age 29, Scranton Yankees catcher P.J. Pilittere can see the writing on the wall.
Pilittere, an extremely popular catcher who caught 203 games for the Trenton Thunder from 2007-09, has spent the past two seasons in Triple-A Scranton, where he’s had a penchant for getting hurt.
But not really.
Pilittere has been placed on what’s known as the “Phantom DL” countless times over the past several seasons, always finding a way to be the odd man out when a roster spot was needed. It’s been a tough way for the playing career of the 6-foot, 215 pounder to come to an end. But, odd as it may seem for someone not walking in his shoes, it also provides a certain comfort level and has provided invaluable experience as Pilittere transitions to the next step in his baseball career.
“Basically, I try to fill any role that I’m needed in from our coaching staff as a player,” he said.
“It’s hard to explain, I’ve joked that I have around 14 different jobs here; whether it’s help with the scouting reports or put the pitchers attack plan together, help Butch out, help the hitters out, manage the bullpen guys, do my best to help the starting pitchers between starts and talk to them about things. Just trying to get a feel for all areas. I feel very comfortable with our coaching staff here where I trust these guys, they’re really good instructors and mentors who I can learn some things from to hopefully maybe transition into the next avenue of my career, which is coaching.”
Drafted in the 13th round out of Cal State Fullerton in 2004 by the Yankees, Pilittere had been in the organization for seven seasons before leaving to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks prior to this season. But things didn’t work out, and many wondered why Pilittere would choose to return to an organization that could only find 56 at-bats for him all of last season. It all comes back to coaching.
“To tell you the truth, I was a volunteer coach at my alma mater this fall, and I was loving it,” Pilittere said.
“But I’ve got to be realistic and I’ve got to progress towards a career. It’s funny, there’s times where I feel like I’m ready for that next phase of my career, being a coach. But you’ll get in the lineup, and you’ll play and it’ll all come back to you, why you’re here and why you work every day. It’s tough, too. Deep down, you know that you can still play. I think the last few years were a lot harder than this year, because you kind of come into it knowing what you’re going to get and how things are going to be.”
However, for as resigned to the fact that his playing days are going to be over after this season as Pilittere sounds, don’t be so sure. He didn’t rule out coming back for a ninth season in 2012, either.
“Right now is the time where I need to consider what I want to do,” he said.
“I know I can have a job with the Yankees whenever I want one, so it’s just kind of figuring out if I want to jump right into coaching now or if I want to continue to play. It’s hard to really say right now, which is tough.”
With all the talk of a certain catcher’s possible promotion from Scranton to the big leagues, perhaps it’s time to start thinking about that for Pilittere as well. Even if not in an official capacity, Pilittere deserves the opportunity to spend some time in a big league clubhouse before his career is over. Yes, you don’t always get what you deserve…but he’s been a good soldier for the organization and has done everything that’s been asked of him. A well-liked and respected player in the clubhouse and with the media, there are many who would like nothing more than for Pilittere to have a locker in the Yankee Stadium clubhouse in September.
Realistic? Probably not. Well-deserved? No doubt about it.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com