He plays catch with Sounds players but never comes to bat. His name is never announced over the public address system, nor does his name and/or likeness appear on the big digital guitar-shaped scoreboard.
With the exception of the batboys, he is the only uniformed person not employed by the parent-club Oakland Athletics. Every other on-field person (except for the grounds crew) from players to coaches to manager to even the trainer have aspirations of getting the call to The Show, either in Oakland or one of the other 30 teams.
For Gunner Osborne, when the Sounds play their final home game of the season Aug. 31 (he doesn’t make the road trips), his next appearance in a uniform will be next spring when he coaches the middle school team at his alma mater, Friendship Christian. His aspiration is to coach in junior college.
Yet, it’s a heck of a summer job for any young man with baseball running through their veins but who doesn’t have the talent to play professionally.
Gunner Osborne, who was behind the plate when Brennan Swindoll pitched a shutout for Friendship in the 2013 state championship game, has spent his last three summers warming up outfielders and relief pitchers for the Nashville Sounds.
His journey from Friendship to First Tennessee Park is an odyssey which has taken him from Vol State to Tennessee Tech to Vol State to Mississippi College and will likely end back at Tech, where he plans to graduate with a degree in sports administration. Before that, he also expects to have his real estate license.
During the spring of his sophomore year at Vol State, a contact with his summer travel coach, Lipscomb University director of baseball operations Brian Ryman, led him to the Sounds.
“I had texted him going into the spring of my sophomore year in college if he knew of anything baseball-related that summer,” Osborne told me earlier this week.
As the Sounds moved into their new stadium, they had a new bullpen catcher who took the burden of warming up relievers off the backup backstop. Of course, some fans naturally assume he is the No. 2 catcher.
“They do ask for autographs, a lot of the kids,” Osborne said. “I have a jersey on and they ask, but not usually unless they personally know me.
“Everybody’s been extremely good to me and have been really welcoming for the most part.”
While he technically isn’t a player, he is sometimes treated like one by the players, even drawing fines from the kangaroo court, a baseball tradition at all pro levels in which players can be find for unknowing violations of unwritten rules.
But drawing a $3-4 fine and catching Triple-A pitchers and outfielders have proved to be less risky than being behind the plate of a high school game or even playing in college. It was while he was at Mississippi College (not to be confused with Ole Miss) last fall when he was hit in the face by a line drive, which shattered the whole right side of his face, resulting in reconstructive surgery and six plates in his face. He had a doctor’s follow-up appointment Friday and plastic surgery is a distinct possibility. That blow ended his playing career.
It wasn’t the first time he suffered a serious injury on the field.
During his underclass days at Friendship, he was behind the plate one night when a pitch hit the plate and bounced against his neck, causing his carotid artery to swell and impeding the flow of blood and oxygen to his brain.
Dr. Larimore Warren happened to be attending the game that night and quickly sprang into action as the ballpark fell silent.
“If it hadn’t of been for him being there, I don’t know how that would have turned out,” Osborne said.
He has persevered in the game enough to have caught past and future big leaguers. He didn’t catch Sonny Gray on his rehab start in Nashville earlier this summer, but he did get the former Smyrna High star to sign a pair of baseballs. He did catch former Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito when he was a Sound a couple of years ago.
“It’s cool to see them there one day and gone the next,” Osborne said. “It’s cool to see them get called up to the big leagues. I see them on TV and think I was just catching him in the bullpen a few days ago.”
Osborne said he wouldn’t mind catching bullpen again next summer. But he also plans to graduate from Tennessee Tech with his eyes on the future.
“I wouldn’t mind being an assistant junior college coach,” Osborne said. “Once the Sounds are done, I’m trying to get my real estate license.
“I was asked by (Friendship) Coach (John) McNeal earlier this week to coach the middle school team at Friendship in the spring, so I’ll be doing that.”
Incidentally, Osborne isn’t the only one with Wilson County ties who work in the inner workings of the Sounds organization. Jon Boyce, a high-scoring forward for Randall Hutto’s Lebanon Blue Devils in the early 2000s who is now the radio/internet voice for Cumberland basketball, is in the game operations center in the pressbox where he works the video boards and plays the walk-up music.
Those are two cool summer gigs if you love baseball.