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The Curious Case of John Bormann

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Brett Barnett

Photo retrieved from Associated Press/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Imagine being 24 years old. You wake up in South Florida, another day in the minor leagues. It’s your first year after having been moved up a level. You’re excited because you spent all of last season in Class-A West Virginia, and the year before that you spent a healthy amount of time all the way down in Bristol, the rookie leagues.

It’s the first month of the season and you’re optimistic. You know that you’re on the doorstep of Double-A baseball, a level that, if you make it, means you’re a reasonable candidate to make it to the major leagues. You were drafted in the 19th round and, according to SABR, have under a nine percent chance to make it to MLB.

On this particular April 30 morning, you were getting set for an early afternoon game in Port Charlotte, Florida, another game in the hot Florida State League. The Stone Crabs had knocked off your Marauders the night before, 2-1, but you didn’t play. Two nights ago, though, you did start. In a 6-3 Marauders victory, you batted ninth and went 1-for-3, with two walks, and a run scored. You pushed your average to .136.

That morning, though, you were set to catch Mitch Keller in the final game of a three-game set, looking for the series win. Meanwhile, over two-and-a-half hours southeast of Port Charlotte, Bradenton’s parent club, the Pittsburgh Pirates, were in Miami getting set to try for a three-game sweep of the Marlins. That game was set to start a little after 1 pm.

Christ Stewart was going to start for the Pirates, while Francisco Cervelli had a sore foot issue, which persisted most of April. The Pirates had a problem: they were going into the game with only one catcher. Elias Diaz, who played the second most time at catcher in 2017, was over 1,200 miles away in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where the Indianapolis Indians were going to play the New York Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate, the RailRiders. Diaz wouldn’t be able to get there in time.

That left only one option, it seemed: catcher John Bormann.

According to ESPN, Bormann received the news around 9 am that he would be joining the Pirates in Miami for the afternoon. When manager Gerardo Alvarez gave him the news, Bormann thought he had misspoken. He said, “I’m thinking, ‘Maybe he misspoke. Maybe I’m going to Altoona.’ But he said, ‘No, we’re serious. You’re going to Miami.’”

Bormann left soon thereafter, knowing it would be somewhat of a close call. After all, he had to get to Miami, navigate traffic, get to the stadium, get into the stadium, and get to the clubhouse and prepped for a game. He made the trip in a swift two hours and fifteen minutes.

On his way to Miami, Bormann called his friends and family. He said, “The best part of it, the whole ride over here was just hearing the reactions to my news and just living my dream out, but also for them, hearing the excitement in their voices. They were just as dumbfounded as I was.”

Wearing number 64, Bormann spent most of his time that afternoon watching the affair from the bench. The camera cut to him several times throughout the broadcast, and he could often be seen soaking up the atmosphere, and usually tossing snacks into his mouth while he watched.

The Pirates went on to lose that game to the Marlins, 10-3, which gave manager Clint Hurdle a great opportunity to ensure Bormann had a chance to see the field.

After Stewart struck out, Jose Osuna doubled to left. That’s when Bormann pinch hit for Josh Harrison. He worked a 2-2 count against Jarlin Garcia before striking out swinging. Josh Bell then grounded out to third base.

Bormann’s major league experience was almost over.

After that, the Pirates were on their way to Cincinnati to take on the Reds, and Bormann was back on his way to the Florida State League. On May 3, Bormann was back in Bradenton’s starting lineup, facing off against the St. Lucie Mets. He doubled, going 1-for-4 with an RBI.

Bormann also played two games in Indianapolis in 2017. Over the next two years, the catcher only played in 36 games, spread out over Altoona, Bradenton, and West Virginia, thanks to the injury bug. He only played five games in all of 2019.

On August 11, 2019, Bormann retired.

His career may not have had the trajectory he had hoped for, but Bormann did suit up for a major league team – something not many can say they’ve done.