Caleb Joseph, Orioles catcher, talks about the old pickup truck he bought for spring training. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun video)
SARASOTA, FLA. — The pickup truck that Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph drives to work every day this spring stands out so much that when he pulled up to front gate of the Ed Smith Stadium complex for the first time last month, the attendants were hesitant to let him in.
The Orioles players' parking lot in Sarasota is filled with extravagant sports cars, expensive sports-utility vehicles and custom-made pickup trucks. So the dark green 2000 Mazda B2500 pickup truck that Joseph bought off Craigslist last month for $700 cash prompted several double takes in the early days of spring training.
"The first time I drove up in it, I had to convince [the gate attendants] it was really me and not some stranger trying to come in and vandalize the place," Joseph said with a smile. "But it was good. They know my truck now. I have my own little parking spot now. It's only two, three feet wide. It's a tiny little truck, so it's good. It doesn't take too much space."
The truck fits Joseph well: It has seen a lot and it has plenty of personality. The odometer shows it has traveled more than 198,000 miles.
It has definitely traded some paint and kissed some bumpers along the way. There's a large dent on the front left side, right behind the headlight, and there are major scratches and dents on both doors, including a long scrape from the passenger-side door down to the rear cab. The radio initially didn't work — Joseph would play Pandora Internet Radio on his cell phone on his way to the complex to listen to music — but a new battery has made it slightly functional.
However, Joseph said the truck is the right fit for him. He loves the sound and smell of the engine. He loves how it runs. He loves the feel of the steering wheel and sitting in the well-worn seats. He finds out something new about the truck every day, from the graffiti he uncovered when he flipped the sun visor down for the first time to the Wu-Tang Clan album that emerged from the CD player a day ago. His face glows when he talks about it.
"It's like a fine Sauvignon Blanc," Joseph said with a smile. "It gets better with age."
Joseph said he didn't want to pay $1,500 on a rental car this spring, especially on something he wasn't going to get anything back for in the end. Shipping his own car down was going to cost a lot. So he responded to an advertisement on Craigslist when he arrived in Sarasota last month, met the owner and purchased the truck on site. He said he has put about another $200 into the truck, but for him, it's just about perfect.
"When I saw that cheese, I jumped on it like a rat," Joseph said.
He also had the advice of his younger brother Corban, who is currently an infielder in the Orioles minor league system. Corban knows automobiles well, having taken mechanic and welding courses in high school.
"I've put some wrenching hours on that sucker," Corban said from the Orioles dugout before Saturday's split-squad game in Fort Myers. "He told me he was going to buy it for $1,000 and I told him, 'Nah, you need to offer something a little less than that.' But it's a great truck. We had to do some maintenance to it. … We've got a little squeaking we'll have to deal with down the road, but it's a good car.
"There are a few dents there, but that gives it character. Every one of those dents tells a story."
"Yeah, we just don't know what those stories are," Caleb interrupted as he came into the dugout to get his catcher's gear.
Caleb Joseph, now 29, has established himself as a major league catcher over the past two seasons, but a few years ago, he wasn't sure he'd make it to the big leagues. He found himself stuck in the minors, starting at Double-A Bowie for the fourth straight season in 2013. He broke out with his best offensive season that year, hitting 22 homers and driving in 97 runs; but more importantly, he made strides defensively that finally earned him the organization's trust behind the plate.
When starting catcher Matt Wieters went down with Tommy John elbow reconstruction in 2014, Joseph took advantage of the opportunity. And had Wieters not accepted the Orioles' $15.8 million qualifying offer this offseason, Joseph would have likely assumed the team's starting catcher duties this season. Instead, Joseph will combine with Wieters to form a solid backstop combo.
But before breaking through two seasons ago, Joseph — who grew up in Franklin, Tenn., a small town outside Nashville — spent his pro career toiling in the minors. Money was tough. He worked odd jobs in the offseason, including doing landscape one year and delivering packages another year.
So knowing Joseph's back story, it's not surprising that he pulled into camp this spring driving his banged-up truck.
"That comes a lot with how I was raised and basically my entire career in baseball. I've always kind of been that guy," Joseph said. "I don't ever want to lose that. I think that's what keeps me going, what pushes me. I never want to have a sense of entitlement or think that I've made it. I don't ever want to be comfortable.
"So I think doing things like this, even though it's about saving $500 to $600, it puts me in the perspective like, you're not too good to drive a beat-up truck to work every day. There are thousands of Americans who do it every day and just because you play baseball on TV, it doesn't mean you can't do that. It's just another reminder of what I like and enjoy doing every day. I love that truck."
Joseph has taken his share of ribbing this offseason. He joked that he's worried he's going to walk out one day and see the truck on cinder blocks, or with the tires gone, or worse, driven into the pond attached to the team complex.
"You've been to the high school homecoming on Friday where you take the sledgehammer and you pay 25 cents and you get to beat on it?" Showalter said. "We haven't decided whether we're going to do that or not."
Wieters, whose locker is next to Joseph's in the Orioles clubhouse, rolled his eyes when he saw Joseph boasting about the truck to a reporter.
"Are we really doing an interview about this?" Wieters deadpanned.
Joseph would like to take the truck back to Baltimore, but he realizes the cost of shipping is likely more than it's worth. His brother wants to find a way to get it back to Tennessee because he thinks it would be a great truck for offseason duck hunting.
But Joseph said he's leaning toward donating it to a local church in Sarasota.
"There's a church my wife [Brooke] and I are going to down here and we've gotten close to some of the people there, and churches are places where sometimes people go when they're in need," Joseph said. "So if we're going to be in Baltimore and there's going to be an extra car around here and someone has a need, maybe we can fulfill that need."
First the truck has to make it out of spring training. There are no guarantees of that, but Joseph said he's definitely already gotten more than his money's worth.
"It's all worked out so far," Joseph said. "I'm here. So if I'm not here, then look for me on the side of the road."