By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
EVERETT — Carlton Tanabe is the type of player who doesn’t grab the headlines all that often. However, he’s the type that baseball organizations appreciate a whole lot more than just for his statistics.
The Everett AquaSox catcher is a modern day Odysseus, considering the kind of travels he’s endured the past four seasons. Tanabe has racked up the airline miles because of his constant moving between Seattle Mariners minor-league affiliates. But Tanabe takes it all in stride, and the Mariners organization values his contributions.
“He’s a guy we really like a lot, we really value a lot,” Everett manager Rob Mummau said. “He’s been at different levels throughout the year, and he’s come here and done a really nice job.”
Said Tanabe: “It’s been an adventure so far. But it’s baseball, so it’s been fun.”
Just how much has Tanabe bounced around? It’s only June, yet Everett is the fourth different Mariners affiliate the 21-year-old from Pearl City, Hawaii, has spent time with this season. He played six games with Clinton of the mid-Class A Midwest League and three games with Jackson of the Class AA Southern League. He also spent a week with Class AAA Tacoma, though he didn’t get into any games.
And this is nothing new for Tanabe. Since being selected in the 24th round of the 2009 draft, he’s averaged three different minor-league teams per season, and the only one of Seattle’s seven affiliates he hasn’t suited up for is Pulaski of the rookie Appalachian League. He’s had multiple stints at every other level except Class AAA.
“It’s definitely an experience,” Tanabe said. “It would be nice to just stay in one place and be able to put up numbers and play every day. But it’s what the Mariners have me doing and I don’t have any complaints.”
Such is life for many a minor-league catcher. Catchers are always in demand. They’re more prone to injury than other position players because of the physical demands of catching, and minor-league teams are also always in need of extra catchers to warm up relief pitchers. Therefore, Tanabe often finds himself being sent wherever he’s needed most.
That presents its challenges for Tanabe, both on and off the field as he’s constantly trying to figure out not only a new set of teammates, but also new living situations.
“(The hardest thing) is just getting the rhythm of things,” Tanabe said. “Getting settled in and feeling comfortable, getting to know the pitchers and how their ball breaks and what they like to throw.”
But it also provides perspective, as Tanabe gets a chance to experience baseball at higher levels. It also resulted in recognition, as Tanabe was the recipient of the SEATTLE Award in both 2011 and 2012 for his dedication to the organization.
“It’s challenging,” Mummau said. “But he’s been to the higher levels and seen what it takes to get there and stay there. He’s a good make-up guy who always brings a smile to the field, which I appreciate. He handles it with a lot of grace, first class.
“I was one of those guys, and you never look too far ahead,” Mummau added, reflecting on his own nine-year minor-league career. “Every day is a special day, you can’t look to tomorrow.”
One of the consequences of his constant movement is that Tanabe has never had the chance to settle in and get regular playing time at one stop. The most he’s ever played for one team in 48 games with Clinton in 2011, the only time in the past four seasons he’s played for just one team. He’s had seven different stops the past two seasons, never appearing in more than 23 games for one team.
Therefore, Tanabe is hoping he can stick around in Everett for a while. So far he’s off to a good start with the bat for the Sox. Going into Friday’s game against Hillsboro he was 6-for-17 (.353) with one of the team’s two home runs and a team-leading four RBI.
“I would love to just stay here and be on the team for the whole year,” Tanabe said. “But whatever the Mariners have planned for me, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to stay positive and pay my hardest whenever I get to play.
“The Mariners have been doing this a lot longer than I have, so I’m going to trust that they’ll make the best of my career, and whatever happens happens,” Tanabe added. “I just hope I can play this game until I’m 50 — maybe 40, being a catcher. We’ll see how long it goes, I just want to play as long as I can.”