Making the switch from second baseman to catcher has been a journey of many, many small steps for Jordan Pacheco.
In addition to learning the basic mechanics of the position, there are the hundreds of nuances that have to become instinctive for Pacheco to realize his goal of reaching the major leagues.
But one rule already is etched in Pacheco's mind. Once he reaches the bigs, he'll know how to dress.
The Modesto Nuts catcher learned the major league dress code the hard way. He spent most of spring training with the big-league camp, all the time knowing he'd open the 2010 season with the Modesto Nuts.
Right before opening night, the Colorado Rockies flew to Albuquerque for a two-game weekend exhibition against Seattle. Partly as a reward for performing well in the spring and partly because Pacheco is an Albuquerque native, the Rockies invited him to join the team for the weekend series.
"I didn't know I was going to Albuquerque," Pacheco said. "The last day before big league spring training broke they told me I was going on the trip.
"I didn't have time to get anything and I thought I could show up in my jeans. Then I stepped on the plane and everybody's in suits and ties. (Rockies manager) Jim Tracy came up to me and suggested I dress properly the next time."
Pacheco may have been embarrassed about it at the time, but he can laugh about it now. And from all accounts, so can Tracy. According to Bill Geivett, Colorado's assistant general manager and vice president of baseball operations, Tracy is one of Pacheco's biggest fans.
"If you had told me the day we sat down and decided to make Jordan a catcher that in less than two years a big league manager would talk him up in spring training ... there's no way," Geivett said.
Position-switching is somewhat common in minor league baseball. Every year there seems to be a pitcher who last year was an outfielder, but no position is more difficult to pick up mid-stream than catcher.
Pacheco was a heralded infielder coming out of the University of New Mexico, where he was the Mountain West Conference Player of the Year in 2007. The Rockies took him in the ninth round that year and sent him to Casper, where he hit .292 in 58 games.
Prior to the next season, Pacheco was called into a meeting with Rockies' brass.
"I thought that maybe they were telling me I was staying in extended spring to take some more ground balls," Pacheco said. "Then they told me they wanted me to move to catcher.
"It was a shock at first, but they explained to me that as a catcher I'd have a better opportunity to move up through the organization as long as I stayed healthy."
He stayed in extended spring training, then was sent to Tri-City for full-time catching duties. The bet never wavered, as he hit .280 and led the short-season team with 35 RBIs. He followed that up with a memorable 2009 season in Asheville in which he .322 with 13 homers and 79 RBIs and was named the most valuable player in the South Atlantic League.
"Moving Jordan was all about putting him in a position where he would maximize his major league value," Geivett said. "That's always what we do, and our job as a staff is to put players in their maximum position of value to the major league team. At that point, we're doing the best thing both for the player and the club. Everybody seems to be looking for catching."
And while the bat never cooled, he was making strides behind the plate.
"If someone was seeing him catch for the first time, while there might be some holes in what he does, they wouldn't think that they're seeing a guy who was a converted second baseman," said Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein. "He's a real catcher and he's making small steps every day.
"It's a lot of little things. He's changed his arm stroke, he's catching the ball much better and cleaner, which helps in getting marginal pitches called strikes, and he's blocking the ball much softer."
Pacheco is quick to spread the credit for his development behind the plate, both to the coaches he's had in the organization and to second-year teammate Beau Seabury.
"Beau and I have been together the last two seasons, and he's the best catcher I've ever seen," Pacheco said. "I try to do everything like him. I can't, but I try."
The Rockies weren't done surprising Pacheco. He was called to Denver in late winter to catch some of the organization's pitchers in town to have their rehabilitation progress evaluated.
"I wanted to get a couple bullpen sessions in before I went to spring training, and that's when they told me I was going to be with the big club in spring training," Pacheco said. "I was excited. It was an honor to be there and I hope I get the chance to go back again next year, but we'll see."
Making an impression
In an organization loaded with catching talent, including former Modesto players Miguel Olivo, Chris Iannetta, Mike McHenry and the blossoming Wilin Rosario, Pacheco did what he could to leave his mark.
He saw action in 10 big-league games during the spring, and went 7-for-11 with seven RBIs, two walks and only one strikeout.
"Big league camp is where Jordan really came on," Geivett said. "Earlier than that we looked at him as a guy who was still adjusting. We weren't even to the second anniversary of him becoming a catcher, and he was catching the major league camp. Not only that, but the big league manager was talking in meetings about how impressed he is with this kid who goes out there and not only fits in, but acts like he belongs here."
Even with the spring splash with the Rockies, Pacheco was headed to Modesto, where he is hitting .322 with five homers and 69 RBIs.
But first, there would be a side trip to his hometown.
Pacheco went 2-for-3 with a walk in the series with a hit in each game, thrilling his local fans.
"I didn't know how much playing time I would get, but I caught three innings and got four at-bats," Pacheco said. "It was awesome, and all my family was there."
And for the weekend, he was the star — bigger than Todd Helton. Even bigger than Ichiro.
"That was unbelievable," Geivett said. "I'm watching the local news in Albuquerque and he was the lead story ... it was all 'Welcome home Jordan Pacheco.'
"At that point we forgave him about the clothes thing so he could play in his hometown."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.