For walk-on bullpen catchers, baseball is a warm-up act


Junior catcher Grant Martin spends most of his time warming up pitchers in the bullpen, but his ability to throw batting practice has given him the ability to travel with the team. 

Evan Berkowitz

Not many people know who junior Grant Martin or sophomore James Barton are outside the doors of the home locker room at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. 

The two finance majors walk through the halls of the McCombs School of Business unrecognized by even the biggest Texas baseball fans.

While Martin’s teammates spent the majority of their vacation on the baseball diamond, he sat at a desk, crunching numbers as an intern at Blue Sage Capital, a private equity fund in Austin. 

For the two walk-on bullpen catchers, playing ball is not about the glory or the prospect of going pro.

“I love being a bullpen catcher,” Barton said. “I love being out there with the guys, warming them up and feeling like I am contributing to the game while it’s going on.”

Their role is different than most. They aren’t expected to fill up the box score; in fact, they know they will never get into a game. 

On game day, they sit in the Texas bullpen waiting to warm up any pitcher, knowing they will be there from the first pitch to the last out. 

But, as the only bullpen catchers, they have built a bond, taking pride in their inglorious role. 

“We have had some great bullpen guys before us, and we are excited to continue the legacy,” Barton said.

Both were exceptional catchers at the high school level. Martin earned all-district first team honors three times at Burnet High School. Barton was all-state at Hyde Park Baptist School.

“I had the junior college looks and some DII looks,” Martin said. “We are still pretty good baseball players. comparatively.” Both passed up small-school baseball opportunities to focus on academics and pursue degrees at Texas, thinking they were leaving the game they loved behind. 

But Longhorn pitching coach Skip Johnson found out Martin was coming to Texas. He knew the catcher from his select days with the Austin Wings, where he played with current Longhorns including starting pitcher Parker French, second baseman Brooks Marlow and outfielder Collin Shaw.

“He asked if I wasn’t quite ready to hang up the cleats and be a bullpen catcher,” Martin said. “I said, ‘Absolutely.’”

But once Martin and Barton joined head coach Augie Garrido’s ball club, they realized how difficult the transition from high school baseball to the college game really was. 

“I didn’t know everything playing at the University of Texas would entail,” Barton said. “The time commitment and how hard it is.”

For Martin, who also throws batting practice, the demands are even greater.

“Typically, teams don’t carry bullpen catchers on the road,” Martin said. “[Throwing batting practice] enabled me to travel all three years. I still travel. I still miss class and have to make up tests.” They quickly discovered that, scholarship or no scholarship, everyone on the team is treated equally. 

“I learned right away you’re not treated any differently,” Martin said. “We do the same amount of running. Same amount of practice. The only thing that’s different is that I pay my tuition.”

But knowing that they will never take the field on game days, Martin and Barton make sure to take time to enjoy the little things, such as Barton eating two desserts before every game. One is his, and the other belonging to a starter.

They’ll never hear their names called in the MLB Draft, but being a bullpen catcher isn’t exactly a dead-end job. For Martin, it could be just the beginning. He’s already been approached by a family friend to gauge his interest in being a bullpen catcher at the professional level. 

“Not many people get the chance to choose whether to be an investment banker or a bullpen catcher,” Martin said. 

So, while their teammates are taking batting practice and fielding grounders in preparation for this weekend’s series against Baylor, Martin and Barton are worried about their intermediate finance homework and a test they have coming up. 

“As they teach you in finance, it’s all about maximizing your return on your investment,” Martin said. “We have to make our dollar go further. We are still paying for school, all while playing baseball on the side.”