Tony Pena’s title is Yankees bench coach, but his spring training role is catching drill instructor. In the right field bullpen at George M. Steinbrenner Field, Pena takes all of the Yankees catchers — the veterans fighting for a big league job, the young guys trying to make a name for themselves — through sometimes brutal drills of blocking, receiving, throwing and footwork. And he loves it.
Here’s Pena working with Francisco Cervelli, making him catch flips barehanded, one after another, with little time in between tosses. This video doesn’t really do the drill justice. Before I began recording, Pena and Cervelli went at least twice as long as this clip without either one making a mistake. It’s rapid fire, and Pena gets extremely excited when a catcher is able to keep going for a long time.
Here’s Pena working with J.R. Murphy, putting him through a fairly self explanatory blocking drill. Pena will stand a few feet away and toss the ball like in this video, or he’ll stand farther back — a few feet in front of the mound — and fire baseballs overhand into the dirt. It’s all side-to-side reaction for the catcher.
Here’s Pena working with Austin Romine, going through what must be Pena’s most notorious drill. Using a bat to create velocity, Pena swings away with line drives and tough hops in the dirt. It’s intense, and Pena occasionally has the catchers do this exact same drill with no glove. They put their hands behind their backs and block everything with their chests (including the line drives that don’t skip off the dirt). By the way, the best part of the video is Pena’s absolute joy when a ball bounces high and basically hits Romine right in the neck. Second best part is the drill ending and Romine clearly asking for more.