Ryan Casteel doesn’t look or play the part of team prankster.
He’s more of a heroic prankee.
Casteel, one of the Albuquerque Isotopes’ two primary catchers, is off to an outstanding start in his first season of Triple-A baseball. He’s hitting a team-best .418, with a home run and 12 RBIs, in 18 games and will go into Thursday’s game at Round Rock riding a nine-game hitting streak.
The only reason Casteel doesn’t rank among the Pacific Coast League batting leaders is he’s had too few at-bats to qualify. He shares the catching duties with Dustin Garneau and was not in the lineup for Tuesday’s 10-7 Isotopes victory over visiting Sacramento.
Casteel doesn’t object to the platoon situation and takes his job ever-so seriously.
“First guy to the ballpark, last to leave,” Casteel said. “It’s the life of a catcher.”
But Casteel has a alter ego with an entirely different role. Whether he likes it or not, the 23-year-old doubles as “Hammer Casteel,” a gag hero of epic proportions.
Casteel said the nickname started when he was playing Single-A ball. Then-teammate Tyler Massey commented that Casteel’s exaggerated top-hand swing looked like he was swinging a hammer. The Hammer was born.
“It stuck,” Casteel said. “Now some of my (Isotopes) teammates have picked up on it and started a fake Twitter account. It’s pretty ridiculous.”
The Hammer’s account, @TheABQhammer9, offers various pearls of wisdom. For example:
“Not sure why pitchers keep trying to throw me outside. I got more plate coverage than a 32 oz. ribeye.”
“Fact: In Australia I refer to my homeruns as Dingos.”
The unidentified Isotopes who author the account haven’t stopped there. They’ve managed to get MC Hammer’s “Hammer Time” played as Casteel’s walk-up song. He was even introduced as Ryan “The Hammer” Casteel over the public address system for one recent at-bat.
“I was so embarrassed,” Casteel said of the introduction. “I thought, ‘Man, I better do something today because the other team just heard that, too.’ Luckily, I ended up having a pretty good day.”
Isotopes manager Glenallen Hill prefers to ignore and stay out of such clubhouse antics. The normally stoic Hill couldn’t help hearing Casteel’s walk-up music or introduction, however.
“It was really hard not to smile when they played that music and said Ryan ‘The Hammer’ Casteel,” Hill said. “I haven’t looked at the Twitter account, but I’ve heard about it. Whoever’s doing it is pretty witty.”
Casteel does not want the gag to go too far. He’s requested that “Hammer” walk-up music and introductions be discontinued.
But the affable catcher doesn’t necessarily mind being the subject of some harmless clubhouse fun.
“I follow (the bogus Twitter account),” Casteel said. “It’s actually pretty funny and it helps keep things light, so whatever.”
BLIND FORTUNE: Isotopes relief pitcher Jairo Diaz had fans and teammates buzzing with an eye-popping play Tuesday. Diaz was facing center field as he followed through on a pitch to Sacramento’s Jarrett Parker in the eighth inning. Parker chopped the ball up the middle, and Diaz blindly reached out with his left hand just in time for the ball to bound into his glove.
Diaz then calmly threw to first as if the entire play was routine.
“I don’t know if Jairo will talk more about that or the home-run swing he took in his at-bat,” Hill said. “We’ll probably hear a lot about both.”