ST. PAUL, Minn. — Jake Taylor settles in his stance behind the dish as the opposing batter approaches. Just before Taylor signals to the pitcher, the guy he’s trying to get struck out drops the jab.
"Hey, how’s your wife and my kids?"
This isn’t Clu Haywood from the 1989 baseball film "Major League," which celebrates its silver anniversary this year. It’s the Kansas City T-Bones’ leadoff man.
Like Taylor, he’s just another independent-league baseball player clinging to the professional ranks. Unlike Taylor, he doesn’t share a name and position with the primary protagonist in one of the most popular baseball movies ever shown.
"He just pulled the line from ‘Major League,’ and I couldn’t help myself," Taylor, in his first year as the St. Paul Saints’ backstopper, told FOXSportsNorth.com. "I just started laughing."
Most American Association parks have some sort of routine for when Taylor comes to town. Some show a mug of Jake Taylor, movie character played by Tom Berenger, on the video board when he comes up to bat. Others play quotes from the film during his at-bats.
"It’s pretty funny," Taylor grinned.
The Saints themselves, despite their knack for wacky promotions and attention-grabbing business model, haven’t planned any "Major League"-themed nights around Taylor. No Willie Mays Hayes bobblehead night, no Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn wig giveaways.
"Too easy," St. Paul play-by-play man and communications specialist Sean Aronson grinned.
Besides, this Taylor doesn’t share much in common with his fictional character namesake — save for icing down his knees after games.
The real-life Jake Taylor is 27 with a dark-brown buzz cut and hasn’t played a game of affiliated baseball in his life. Born Oct. 30, 1986 in California — three years before the film’s release, negating the possibility he was named after its main character — he was drafted in the 35th round of the 2005 MLB draft by Florida but opted for junior-college ball at Chaffey (Calif.) College.
A third baseman by trade, he’d been asked by Marlins personnel folks to switch to catcher. So he did at Chaffey while still maintaining an infield presence. Sometimes, he even pitched.
But the wear and tear that comes with playing so many different positions and throwing from just as many arm angles, he said, led to a torn labrum midway through his collegiate career. He transferred to Division II Missouri Southern and finished out his college days as a middle infielder.
His abilities as a utility man were attractive. He’s got decent power from the right-handed batter’s box, too. But the MLB scouts that passed through Joplin, Mo., decided they’d pass, and Taylor never got another big-league shot.
Instead, he joined the independent ranks. Before signing with St. Paul in the offseason, he spent two years with the Sioux Falls Canaries, also AA members.
That’s when he returned to catching on a regular basis. And that’s when the "Major League" references rang most true.
"It actually helped my career a lot, just switching from infield to catcher, because now I can play anywhere in the infield," Taylor said. "It all depends on what they need, really. That’s kind of the good thing about me being able to play anywhere is that whatever they need is where I go."
The Saints have used him at second base, third base, catcher and even one game in the outfield. In 32 games this season, he’s batting .282, slugging .419 and has 13 RBI. As of Thursday morning, St. Paul is 38-26 and second in the AA’s North Division.
That puts them in adequate position to, as Berenger’s character would say, "win the whole (bleep)-ing thing."