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Drayer: Mariners C José Godoy’s long road to becoming MLB’s ‘Mr. 20,000’

José Godoy joined the Mariners in time for their series last week in San Diego. (Getty)

Lost in the nightmare that was the Mariners’ series in San Diego – complete with three days of COVID uncertainty – was a debut a long time in the making that culminated in an unexpected national spotlight.

José Godoy, baseball’s unofficial “Mr. 20,000.”

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All debuts are special, and while Godoy certainly gained recognition as the 20,000th player to debut in baseball, we didn’t really get the opportunity to hear his story or take in his landmark day largely due to COVID restrictions and the lack of access to players and the clubhouse.

It was certainly worth circling back for.

“I feel so happy. I mean, we don’t have the results, but I am so happy to have my base hit, my RBI, now I can breathe and enjoy the game,” the 26-year-old rookie catcher said earlier this week, the emotion of his voice and smile on his face hardly muted by the Zoom interaction.

Called up when Luis Torrens was optioned to Triple-A, Godoy had been hitting .310 with an .829 OPS with the Rainiers, just a sliver of his .275/.362/.360 slash (.722 OPS) accumulated in eight minor league seasons. Despite the success, when Rainiers manager Kristopher Negrón called to tell him that he was going to be traveling with the Mariners to San Diego, a big league call-up was the last thing that was on his mind.

“I thought, ‘Oh, I am going to the taxi squad,’ and he told me, ‘No, you are going to be activated today,'” Godoy said. “I just can’t believe I didn’t expect that. I called my mom, I called my wife, I called my family and started crying because it took a long time to be here and I worked hard to be here. I am just so happy to be here.”

Walking into the visitior’s clubhouse at Petco Park for his first day in the big leagues was surreal.

“I can’t say how it feels when I put my uni on, see my name and my number. I am going to be a big leaguer,” he remembered of the moment last Friday.

Godoy made his debut that night, replacing Tom Murphy behind the plate in the sixth inning of the the Mariners’ 16-1 loss to the Padres. He went 0 for 1 with a a walk at the plate and learned after the game from teammates that he had become the 20,000th player to debut in MLB.

“No one can be here, it’s just a small group,” he marveled. “20,000 people can be here. If you imagine that for more than 100 years, I am just the 20,000th player. It’s a small group.”

The road to becoming the 20,000th player in baseball has been long for Godoy, who grew up in Maracaibo, Venezuela. He spent eight years in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, an organization that for the last 16 years has had the catcher position locked down by one man, Yadier Molina. Despite the lack of opportunity, Godoy never considered changing positions.

“I’ve been a catcher all my life,” he said. “Since I was 6 years old. I watched Ivan Rodriguez, Yadi Molina, Salvador Perez – they were all my favorites.”

In the pitching-rich Cardinals organization, there was much to learn. From the catchers around him, which included Molina in spring training, to the pitching coaches, managers and pitchers themselves, Godoy enjoyed the experience.

“I always try to learn from everybody,” he said. “I pick one thing from everybody, that’s how you learn. In the bullpens, listen to your pitching coach, your manager – especially if your manager was a catcher.”

His current manager, who was a catcher, likes what he has seen from Godoy in his short time up.

“The biggest thing that stands out for me is his energy level,” said Mariners manager Scott Servais. “With catchers, whether you like it or not, everyone is looking at you. All the guys on the field, everything is directed to home plate, that’s where you reside. The energy level, how you handle yourself, your body language goes a long way and can rub off on a ball club. I’m really happy with what I have seen so far. He’s asking a ton of questions, he’s learning a lot. He and Woody (Mariners pitching coach Pete Woodworth) are working really well together.”

As a left-handed-hitting catcher, Godoy has been known more for what he can do with the bat than what he had done behind the plate, although in his first few games with the Mariners it is the defense which has stood out. He has shown the ability to block balls in the dirt and impressively pick a few he could not get in front of. His pitch framing has also stood out.

“His hands are very good,” said Servais. “You will see him move the ball very effectively back into the strike zone. His pocket timing, he’s on time. The ball’s not pulling him away from the strike zone, which is huge.”

“I want my pitchers to trust me,” said Godoy, emphasizing the word “me.” “Throw the ball, I’m going to catch, I’m going to block, I’m going to make you look good.”

There is familiarity with the Mariners pitchers as Godoy did get to catch most of them in spring training this year. He looks forward to learning more from both the pitchers themselves and Woodworth. Most of all, he embraces the opportunity in front of him now that he is in the big leagues.

“I made it, finally,” he said. “I dreamed for this moment for a long time and now I am here enjoying and playing the game hard.”

Follow Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

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