FORT WORTH, Texas – Al Ralston, TCU’s former bullpen catcher, had one hit in his entire collegiate career. He never started a single game and only had three at-bats in his time at the university. Still, he played a crucial role in helping TCU get to the College World Series in 2010.
As the bullpen catcher, Ralston worked heavily with the Horned Frogs’ pitchers. He worked with them before they would go into games and offer tips on what pitches were working well for that individual pitcher.
“Really I just came in focusing on being the best teammate I could and doing whatever I could to help the team out and get to a College World Series,” Ralston said.
Unlike in the Major Leagues, a bullpen catcher in college is actually on the team; in the Majors a member of the coaching staff fills that role.
“I did everything else everyone else did. I took batting practice, I did all the catching drills and everything. I was on the depth chart as a catcher, I just spent most of my time during games down in the bullpen getting pitchers ready.”
Ralston could have played at Division II or III schools, but chose TCU because he had really liked the campus when he visited his sister who graduated from the university in 2008. He also wanted his family to be able to come and see him play.
“The fact that it’s so close to home, me being from Houston, was the biggest factor. It gave the ability for my parents to drive up whenever they wanted to come see me play,” he said.
Ralston’s mother Leenie encouraged him to go to TCU even if he would not be able to play every day. Ralston’s parents did not want him to make his college choice solely on baseball.
“I know, for a baseball player, baseball is life, but, you know, there’s other life too. Plenty of baseball players get [to college] and think ‘Oh, I’m gonna play baseball’ and then they grow out of it and they don’t want to play it anymore,” she said.
Ralston had to adjust to his new role. In high school he played everyday and moving to the bench was a big change for him.
“We joke around that because I went to a private school I was a big fish in a little pond. You come here and everyone’s good. So definitely not playing very much, it hurt, it was tough,” Ralston said.
However, he quickly made himself at home in his new position.
“I didn’t catch till I got up to TCU. I loved being down there because it taught me how to catch. It also gave me a relationship with each pitcher. I saw major league arms for four years. It gave me a relationship with them to know what each pitcher really liked. It helped me understand the game more and how it worked and how you manage a game,” he said.
TCU relief pitcher Trevor Seidenberger said of Ralston, “He was selfless and always had a smile on his face. He didn’t play in the games but he was always there when one of us needed to warm up,” Seidenberger said.
Seidenberger said that Ralston was more than just a catcher or teammate, but one of his good friends.
“Even though this was my first year I felt not only a teammate bond but a friendship with him because he was always there no matter what,” Seidenberger said.
Above all Ralston’s role was to support his teammates and keep the positive throughout the season. His mother said that he was a great encouragement to his teammates.
“The coaches are not there to be your sweet friends. They’re gonna say ‘You stunk it up.’ if you stunk it up and they’re gonna tell you what you did wrong. I think that Al was just the other side of that story. He was there to encourage them and he would say ‘You know we’ll get through it,’” his mother said.
As a member of the team, Ralston went to Omaha in 2010 and said that it was one of his best experiences.
“While you’re there they treat you like a god. It’s the closest most college kids get to being a major league player. It’s something I’ll always remember for the rest of my life,” Ralston said.
Ralston worked in the bullpen for three years and built strong relationships with his teammates, but rarely got on the field. His father surprised him at the conference tournament in 2011 where Ralston pinch-hit for his first collegiate at-bat.
Ralston said, “I was nervous. It was like a little kid playing baseball for the first time, just out there having fun. I will admit my legs were shaking. The whole time you just sit there and take it all in. All the years you put in for hard work is finally coming out.”
Ralston’s mother said, “I’ll never forget his first at-bat. To see him play on the field it just brought us to tears and filled us with pride and joy.”
Major League teams need bullpen catchers too, but Ralston said he never considered filling that role for a professional team.
“I thought about trying to play semi-pro. I could play independent ball in Houston if I wanted to, but I came into the season knowing it was my last year. When the season ended, I was at peace with being done playing.”
Ralston encourages others to chase their dreams as he did. He thinks that anyone can make it if they work hard enough.
Though Ralston lived his dream as part of a Division I baseball team, his best memories come from off the field.
“It was nice being able to play baseball but really the friendships that came from it. That’s something that will never fade.”
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