Call an ambulence, Josh Thole is blocking the plate

Josh Thole still clearly remembers the first time he ever experienced a play at the plate — and he should.

tholecatcher.JPGHe ended up in the hospital.

“It was just a typical bang-bang play at home plate,” Thole said. “The guy had all the leverage in the world on me. I caught the ball and he hit me. Obviously, I didn’t hold onto the ball.”

It happened in the Gulf Coast League in 2005, during the natural first baseman’s first season as a professional — and his first experience as a catcher. So shaken was Thole that the GCL Mets sent him to the hospital with neck pain. Then, on the drive back from Jupiter, Fla., to Port St. Lucie, the team bus swung by the emergency ward to pick him up.

“I had the worst headache in the world,” Thole said, laughing. “Welcome to pro ball.”

In the five years since, Thole has made significant strides behind the plate — to the point that he looked like a natural making three putouts in Wednesday’s game against the Marlins. And though Thole has worked hard on his footwork and fundamentals, nothing has helped him more than experiencing those situations in games.

“You can practice what you have to — catching the ball, anticipating a hit, working on your tags,” Thole said. “But when it becomes game speed, it happens so fast. It’s no fun.”

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