WASHINGTON — Take away one week in 2016 when they were teammates at Triple-A Norfolk, and Caleb and Corban Joseph hadn’t played together since they were on the same high school team 13 years ago.
Since then, the brothers both spent the majority of their professional careers in the minor leagues. Corban broke through first with New York Yankees in 2013, but he played just two games — both games of a doubleheader — before he was sent back to the minors. Caleb received his first big league opportunity a year later, taking over for an injured Matt Wieters on an Orioles team that won the American League East and went to the AL Championship Series.
Corban went through four organizations — including two stints with the Orioles — before finding his way back to the majors last week when the Orioles promoted him from Double-A Bowie. The only problem was that Caleb had been demoted to Norfolk after struggling at the plate.
Before Tuesday night’s interleague game against the Washington Nationals, the brothers had a reunion as the Orioles recalled Caleb — the second half of a catching roster swap with rookie Chance Sisco, who was optioned to Norfolk on Sunday — making them the first set brothers to be major league teammates since outfielders B.J. and Justin Upton played for the Atlanta Braves in 2015.
“It’s crazy,” said Corban, an infielder. “It’s a dream that we thought could potentially happen. It’s a goal that we set and for it to actually happen, we’re still kind of trying to find our bearings in all of it. Really excited. It’s a lot of fun. It’s almost like a once in a million opportunity … and we’re here now to appreciate it.”
Caleb, 32, and Corban, 29, became just the second pair of brothers to play together with the Orioles, following infielders Cal Ripken Jr. and Bill Ripken, who were teammates from 1987 to 1992 and in 1996.
The Orioles also have had a father-son pair — outfielders Tim Raines Sr. and Tim Raines Jr. played together at the end of the 2001 season.
“That’s pretty cool,” manager Buck Showalter said of the Josephs. “They’re big brother, little brother. There’s been a lot of moments in their life where they’re hoping they both can play at a high level and to be playing at the highest level and on the same team. And both of them have earned it. It’s nothing like we’re keeping them here so they can have a moment together. They’ve earned it.”
When Corban received a surprise call-up Friday after posting a .944 OPS in 59 games with Bowie, Caleb said he was angry — not angry because his brother was being promoted instead of him but because he believed he missed out on the opportunity to play together as big-leaguers.
“You’re like, ‘You’re kidding me? I have blown the chance because if I would have just taken care of my business, he would have been up here and we would have done it earlier,” Caleb said. “That was the anger I was feeling.
“But once you put that anger aside, you realize, ‘Man, this guy was in the minor leagues for five years.’ I was in the minor leagues for 30 days and it was really, really hard. He has a family, too, two young girls, and he was grinding it out five years in between appearances. He didn’t give up. He fought the good fight. I was so excited and so proud of his perseverance and what it took for him to get here. I knew I’ve got to get up there. It’s going to be my fault if we don’t do it. So I’m really happy and thankful that it happened.”
Caleb hit just .182 before his demotion to Norfolk in mid-May, then drove in 14 runs in 24 games with the Tides before rejoining the Orioles on Tuesday.
“Lot of peanut butters and jellies,” Caleb said. “It’s a part of my career. It’s just going to be on the back of the baseball card. You don’t want to go down, you never want to be demoted. Forrest Gump said, ‘It hap-pens.’ So what are you going to do? You going to go whine and quit or you going to buck up and your pull bootstraps on and try and get back? You just try and get back. Then you try and stay, hopefully not repeat.”
When Caleb returned to the Orioles clubhouse Tuesday, he received several hugs welcoming him back. His gregarious personality makes him popular among his teammates. Corban is more reserved, still finding his way after less than a week with the team.
Even though Corban is three years younger, Caleb said he was stout growing up — “He had a six-pack when he was 10,” Caleb said — and didn’t give in to his older brother, which Caleb said gave him indication he was never going to give up in anything he did, including getting back to the majors.
“One time we were playing around and I smashed his fingers in the door,” Caleb said. “I’m running downstairs, and he jumps over the staircase and jumps on top of me and bites me in the back, and I knew, this kid is a fierce kid, and he’s never going to give up, and by goodness, he didn’t do it. He didn’t give up. He’s been that way his whole life. He’s been a real fighter.”
Caleb started his first game back with the team Tuesday in Washington — and doubled in his first at-bat — while and Corban entered as a pinch-hitter in the sixth inning, driving in a tie-breaking run with a fielder’s choice that retired his brother at second base.
On an Orioles team in the midst of major roster transition, they don’t know how long they will be together. They’re hoping it will be at least until this weekend, when the Orioles play three games in Atlanta, the closest major league city to the Josephs’ hometown of Franklin, Tenn.
“We’ve got quite a crew, like 10, 12 today,” Caleb said. “Hopefully, we can make it to Atlanta. That’s where there could be half a stadium filled with orange and black jerseys with ‘Joseph’ on the back. We’ve got quite a few family members who live in that Southern region. It is exciting here; not wishing it to go away, but really looking forward to Atlanta, too.”
Said Corban: “I think it’s extremely special. People who are here in the stands have all had a part of our growing up, maybe have pushed us in certain ways, to be better people or be better baseball players or just helped raise us. I think it’s special for everybody to experience it and be able to kind of be there as one, as a unit.The hard work, not only on our end, but mostly on their parts as well.”