Much is often said about the strength of the University of Louisville pitching staff and the great work that pitching coach Roger Williams does in developing the Cardinals arms, but quietly doing their job to help the staff and team reach their potential is a trio of catchers.
Seniors Shane Crain and Kyle Gibson, along with freshman Will Smith, have spent hours working behind the plate and in the bullpen improving their craft. Splitting time behind home plate, the trio drives strength and motivation from each other.
"We all compete in practice and try to help each other in way that we can," Gibson explained.
The competition grew during fall camp and the push for playing time began. For Gibson and Crain, the competition is now three years old.
"We all have been competing against each other since the fall and I certainly wouldn't be the player that I am without the competition from Gibby and Will," said Crain, a product of Lexington (Ky.) Christian High School. "It makes us better. If you don't have great competition you might get a little relaxed, but with us going at each other every single day it makes you push that much harder and strive to be the best that you can."
Gibson was also quick to credit his fellow catchers for his continued development. The Henderson (Ky.) County product has seen the most action this season, appearing in 36 games and making 27 starts.
"Shane has been my competition since day one and he's made me as good as I am today," said Gibson. "I can give him credit for making me better. Will coming in as a freshman and he's been good competition to. He's shown that he has a lot of athleticism and can play anywhere."
Smith arrived at Louisville following an All-State career at Kentucky Country Day in Louisville and was immediately "taken under their wing."
"They've shown me a lot and really mentored me," said Smith, who has 21 starts this season. "Every day in practice they are showing me new things. I've really had to compete with them just to get an opportunity to play because they are both pretty damn talented."For each, the opportunity to work with some of the college games best arms is one that they take seriously.
"I had a guy tell me last year that what we catch is as close to being an equivalent to a major league staff as possible and I think we handle pretty well," said Crain.
"We have some big league arms on our staff and Coach Williams does a great job preparing them to get better and you can really see their progression during the season," added Gibson.The chance to work with future major pitchers, including All-American reliever Nick Burdi and his fast ball that reaches the century mark is something to look forward to.
"You have Nick Burdi, a future first-rounder, who throws 100 mph and that's pretty fun to catch," said Smith. "You aren't going to get that every where you go. The rest of the staff are really talented, probably all top draft picks, so it's a lot of fun to catch these guys and it really helps you get better."