Yasmani Grandal and Tyler Flowers — the current and former Chicago White Sox catchers — are investing in the future of the position with a safety-minded equipment company
Chicago White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal normally would be in communication with his coaches this time of year while counting down to spring training.
These, unfortunately, are not normal times for Major League Baseball.
Owners instituted a lockout when the collective bargaining agreement with the players union expired in early December . Until it ends, players on the 40-man roster are not allowed to converse with coaches and members of the front office.
“It’s definitely been a weird offseason since I haven’t been able to have any conversation with (pitching coach) Ethan (Katz) or (catching coach) Jerry (Narron) or (analytics coordinator) Shelley Duncan,” Grandal said during a recent phone interview. “I’m always in contact with all those guys just to see what their expectations are for each of the guys (on the pitching staff) and how we can help get them there.
“It’s definitely been a little change of pace.”
Although he can’t catch up with the coaches, Grandal is still able to keep tabs on the pitchers. He asked them to send him pictures and videos whenever they throw.
Grandal invests a lot of time in all aspects of catching — in and out of season.
And he has invested in the future of the position in his role as an ambassador and investor with the equipment company Force3 Pro Gear. Last week, Grandal was among those representing Force3 at the American Baseball Coaches Association convention at McCormick Place.
“Safety is No. 1 for us, definitely No. 1 for me,” Grandal said. “It was an easy call for me (to be an investor). As soon as I tried (the Force3 catcher’s mask) I was hooked on it, and then it was just a matter of how could I be a part of this. How could I be a part of this movement that we’ve got going on? How could I get the word out so that everybody could have one?
“Safety is No. 1. You see guys get concussions and we know what concussions can do to you. The safer we have for players, the better it is.”
Former Sox and Atlanta Braves catcher Tyler Flowers recruited Grandal.
“(I) kept ragging on him a little bit: ‘You’re missing out,’” Flowers said in a phone interview. “Ultimately it’s more about the young kids, teenagers, more so than the guys on TV. Making sure we keep catchers as safe as possible so that we keep having good catchers and (they) continue to progress and hopefully make it to the major leagues.”
Flowers, who also invested in the company, noted the mask’s patented spring technology that is designed to absorb the impact of the baseball. He said he was the first major-league catcher to wear the gear in 2016. Grandal started wearing it during the 2017 season with the Los Angeles Dodgers and said he noticed a difference “from the get-go.”
“The first game I used it, second or third inning, took a foul ball right back (off the mask) and it was like nothing had ever happened,” Grandal said. “And from there on, I was hooked on it.
“I just went to the dentist and was asked, ‘When was the last time you had any problem with your jaw?’ I’m thinking back and it was back in 2017. And halfway through that season, that’s when I started using the Force3 mask and ever since I haven’t had any problems.”
The list of items Grandal uses includes the chest protector, shin guards and a traditional-style mask. Flowers helped design Grandal’s gear and batting gloves.
“I’ve always been a pretty artsy, hands-on guy,” said Flowers, who played for the Sox from 2009-15 and the Braves from 2016-20. “That’s kind of my niche to contribute to the company, even when I was playing.”
He has enjoyed the collaboration with Grandal, whom Flowers called “one of the best catchers in the game.”
Grandal slashed .240/.420/.520 with 23 home runs and 62 RBIs in 93 games in 2021, helping the Sox to the playoffs for the second straight season . He had a .337/.481/.637 slash line in 30 games after being out from July 6-Aug. 27 with a torn left knee tendon .
“It made me stronger mentally — and I’ve thought I’ve always been pretty strong mentally — but it kind of got me to a different level, a different mindset,” Grandal said of his 2021 season. “For me, the work is not done until it’s done. And once it’s done, we’re going to look to figure out how we can make it better.
“The fact that I was able to contribute and get the team closer to that finish line was great.”
Grandal said his recovery is “going great” after offseason surgery on his right knee in late October .
“(I’ve) been hitting a little bit, starting to do more catching work,” he said. “Transferring weight from one leg to the other. Getting flexibility back, strength back.
“(It’s) definitely been a slow process, slower than I would have liked. But the team that I have here in Chicago has done a great job so far of getting me to where I want to be, and we’re heading into the strength phase now and it’s looking like ... I should be good to go by the beginning of spring.”
When exactly spring training will start depends on when the lockout ends.
“I’m hoping it gets resolved sooner rather than later,” Grandal said. “But I don’t have too much say into it. Obviously both parties, we need to come to an agreement and we need to make sure both parties get what they want. As long as we’re meeting right in the middle and we both understand it’s a two-way street, I think we’ll be in a good spot and we can move on.”