Cooperstown’s Phil Pohl experiences Hall of Fame as never before

Written by: Bill Francis

Phil Pohl grew up in Cooperstown. But despite numerous trips to the Hall of Fame, he never thought he’d find himself looking at his artifacts on display in the Museum.

Recently, Pohl donated to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum the mask he used as the Oakland Athletics bullpen catcher while warming up pitchers throughout the 2016 season. Today, his mask can be seen on the Museum’s second floor, sharing space in the A’s locker with the shoes Dallas Braden wore while tossing his 2010 perfect game, jerseys once worn by Barry Zito and Tim Hudson, and a ball Brad Ziegler threw when he notched his 26th consecutive scoreless inning at the start of his career in 2008.

Prior to discussing his career in baseball at an event on the afternoon of Monday, Oct. 24, before a full house of family and friends inside the Museum’s Bullpen Theater, Pohl talked about his journey from local star to big league staff member.

“I really didn’t know what to expect walking in, but coming around the corner here and seeing the mask through the glass was a … words are … I’m finding it hard to describe it,” said Pohl while standing only inches away from his now-on-display catcher’s mask.

“Complete honor to even be considered with some of the stuff that’s in here. The fact that these guys even considered having my mask in here was amazing.”

Phil Pohl shows off his glove to Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson, outside of the A's locker on the second floor of the Museum. (Milo Stewart Jr. / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

The 26-year-old Pohl was born in Bakersfield, Calif., but moved to Cooperstown with his family at the age of nine. He was a top catcher at Cooperstown High School, graduating in 2008, and was drafted by the Rays in the 44th round of the 2008 MLB Draft but did not sign.

“Cooperstown is really where it started for me, playing Little League baseball and knowing I wanted to play in college and all the help from teachers and people at the Clark Sports Center and fans and locals,” Pohl said. “Cooperstown was probably the biggest part of me getting to where I am today.

“And I was fortunate enough as a kid to go through the Hall of Fame quite a bit. It was a dream come true as a baseball fan,” he added. “I think I speak for a lot of players when I say the Hall of Fame is the absolute top. It is the mecca. It’s a very, very elite group of people that are Hall of Famers.”

After Pohl graduated from Clemson University in 2012, he was drafted by the Athletics in the 28th round of the 2012 MLB June Amateur Draft and did sign, embarking on a four-year minor league career that included stops in Vermont (New York-Penn League), Beloit, Wisc. (Midwest League), Stockton, Calif. (California League), Sacramento, Calif. (Pacific Coast League), New Britain, Conn. (Eastern League), Midland, Tex. (Texas League) and Laredo, Tex. (American Association).

With his playing career at a crossroads following the 2015 season, Pohl received a call from the A’s asking if he might consider joining the big league team as its bullpen catcher.

“Obviously, it’s always tough when you have to hang ‘em up as a player for good, but I think it was an easier transition for the fact that I was able to put the uniform on every day and still be able to go on the field,” Pohl said. “I’m still playing catch with a lot of our pitching staff, so I think it was a good transition, it was a good move. I really enjoyed myself my first season.

Phil Pohl's catcher's mask is now on display in the A's locker on the second floor of the Museum. (Milo Stewart Jr. / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

“There are days you wake up and you’re like, ‘Man, I think I still have it.’ But I think in the position I’m in right now, to work my way up the chain as a staff member and hopefully some day as a coach, I like where I’m at right now.”

As for his responsibilities as the bullpen catcher for the A’s, Pohl explained that it as a little bit of everything.

“I wear many hats,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with equipment and getting all the baseballs ready for on-field use. My during-game duties are warming up all of our pitchers. A lot of times I’m with our starting pitcher and starting catcher pregame, making sure they’re ready to go. Behind the scenes I’m sometimes helping out our equipment managers, throwing BP in the cage if they need it, so a little bit of everything. It was a good season for me.

“And I was lucky enough to play with a few of our pitchers coming up, so I had that relationship with some guys that are up there now, which made the transition easier for myself.”

As for his immediate future in the game, Pohl said he accepted an offer he received about a week ago to return to the Athletics in the same role next season and is excited to head to Spring Training in February.

“Right now I’m trying to soak up everything I can from our staff and our team like a sponge,” Pohl said, “but I think down the road hopefully this will accumulate to a job, whether it be within our system as a front office guy or as a member of the coaching staff.”

Phil Pohl (third from right, bottom) spent his youth in the shadows of baseball's hallowed ground. In this photo, Pohl’s youth baseball team poses with Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda in the Museum’s Plaque Gallery. (Milo Stewart Jr. / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

When talk about this year’s much-anticipated World Series between the Indians and Cubs came up, Pohl was diplomatically noncommittal when asked who he thought would come out on top.

“We’ve got some former A’s on both teams,” Pohl said. “I think either way it’s going to be a great series. We played both teams this year and they’re both well managed clubs with really deep pitching staffs and good players.

“But I can’t pick one right now,” he added with a laugh.

Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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