ONLY ON CBS4: Local ballplayer lives out 'dream job' as a Chihuahua
EL PASO, Texas (CBS4) -- His paycheck comes in a tip jar, even though he’s just as important as any other member of the El Paso Chihuahuas.
"We were surprised when we found out he wasn't getting paid,” said pitcher Keith Hessler. “He's just doing this for fun.”
He's not a household name. You cannot buy his jersey and you won't find him on a roster, but he’s vital to the success of the team.
When the Chihuahuas need a reliever, pitching coach Bronswell Patrick picks up the phone in the dugout. And when bullpen catcher Mike Carnera hears the phone ringing in the bullpen down the third-base line, he knows it's time for him to go to work.
"When I was a kid, I always dreamed about being a professional baseball player,” said Carnera. “This is a little taste of what being a professional baseball player is so it's probably the best job I could ever have."
In this, his third season, the former Eastwood High School player helps make sure Chihuahuas pitchers are at their best when their number is called. It's somewhat unique for teams to still have a bullpen catcher in Minor League Baseball.
"It's exciting for me just to see him coming out here,” said Patrick “He's got some energy back there so the guys like that."
“Your catcher is your greatest critic but a lot of catchers are scared to critique pitchers," Hessler said.
There's practically nothing Carnera is excluded from on a day-to-day basis. He does not travel with El Paso on road trips, however.
"Just team meetings. Other than that, they try to include me in. You try to absorb it all. When people ask for autographs, or stuff like that, it makes me feel like I'm a professional baseball player," Carnera said.
Patrick laughed as he described seeing Carnera being hounded by fans. "I have seen him over there signing autographs and things like that, which is cool.” He grew up here. The people know him,” said Patrick.
Carnera is not on the team’s payroll. His pay comes from tips he receives from other players, especially the pitchers. “We take up a collection for him,” said Patrick. “That's something I started last year since he doesn't get paid, you know, just for his efforts in coming out here and helping us."
Last year, the Chihuahuas won the PCL Championship and received some rather impressive rings to commemorate the special season. Carnera was no exception.
"I did get one yes, I did get one,” Carnera said. “I was like, ‘this thing is huge! It's awesome. It's full of diamonds and says my name on the side - that's even better.’"
After this season, Carnera tells CBS4 that he is going to give up catching to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in criminal justice at UTEP.
"As long as you give them respect they'll accept you. Once they accept you, it'll be an easy ride from there" Carnera says.
And in a workplace where employees come and go all the time, perhaps another young, local catcher will soon be living this dream.