Jose Lobaton talks trade, and how he earned the ‘Ice Cream Man’ nickname
by Amanda Comak
VIERA, Fla. — With his future uncertain, Jose Lobaton couldn’t sleep Thursday morning. Rumors swirled the night before that a trade may be in the works that would send him from Tampa to Washington. He tossed and turned, and told his wife, Nina, “I can’t sleep. I’m thinking too much. If I’m going to be part of the Nationals, or not, I just want to know. I just want to make sure I’m going somewhere.”
He’d finally drifted back off to sleep when the call came in from the Tampa Bay Rays. It was official, he was a Washington National.
Acquired on Thursday, along with left-hander Felipe Rivero and outfielder Drew Vettleson in exchange for right-hander Nathan Karns, Lobaton wasted no time. Before 1 p.m., the Nationals’ new catcher was inside the clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium getting fitted with new red gear and catching up with countryman Wilson Ramos.
“I feel happy,” Lobaton said. “Because it’s a new team, and they’ve got faith in me. At the same time, I was with the Rays for, (almost) four years. I was feeling kind of sad (leaving) all the friends that I’ve got there.”
When Nationals President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo met with the local media to discuss the trade late Thursday afternoon, he praised Lobaton’s receiving and defensive skills.
Just how well-liked and respected was Lobaton among the Rays’ vaunted pitching staff? The first call he got after news of the trade spread was from former American League Cy Young winner David Price. A picture of a sad Rays pitching staff followed via text.
“I’m going to miss you,” Price told Lobaton.
But by midday on Thursday, Lobaton was already refocusing on his new team. He chatted with Ramos about his new teammates and got a quick scouting report on the new pitching staff — led by Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister — that he’ll be charged with helping to reach its exceptional potential.
“When you’ve got a staff like that, oof, it’s unbelievable,” Lobaton said. “It made me feel better that the team has faith in me, that you can handle those guys. It’s a long Spring Training, and we’ve got time to get ready and be in that place that I want to be with them. That’s all I need.
“I’m the kind of catcher, I like to talk to the pitcher. Whatever they want. I’m not the kind of catcher who is like, ‘I want something, I’m going to call it.’ I want to do whatever they want. He’s got the ball… Communication, we worked a lot with the Rays on that. That’s what I like to do: try to be on the same page. Whatever they want. If they want the glove low, I’ll put it low. ‘Just let me know’ – that’s all I say to the pitchers: ‘Whatever you want, I’m going to do my best.'”
Lobaton also explained how he got the nickname “Ice Cream Man” while with the Rays. And it’s actually quite a hilarious story, so we’ll just let him tell it:
“I like ice cream,” Lobaton said. “Not in the way that, I love it and I’m going to get ice cream every day or anything, but I really like it. (Before a game in 2012), I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to get ice cream.’ Luke Scott saw me and said, ‘I want you to stay in baseball. If you want to stay in baseball, you can’t get ice cream every day.’ I was like, ‘Why not?’ He said, ‘That’s not good for you. You’re going to get fat.’ I was like, ‘That’s true.’
“(But) in two hours, I was getting another ice cream. After that, (Scott) put in a lot of (signs): ‘Lobaton can’t be here.’ ‘Lobaton is not allowed to get ice cream.’ He said, ‘I’m going to help you.’ After that, it was no ice cream for me. And then we’re playing in Baltimore. He said, ‘This is a good park to hit your first homer.’ I had no homers in the big leagues at that moment. I’m like, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’
“In the second or third at-bat, I hit a homer. Before that at-bat, he said, ‘If you hit a homer, you’re going to get free ice cream.’ I was like, ‘Okay, whatever you say.’ I hit the homer. When I was sitting in the dugout, he came up the tunnel and gave me the ice cream, and it was on TV so everybody asked me. I hit another homer, they gave me more ice cream.
“(In 2013), I kept hitting homers, and they gave me ice cream. In one series, I hit a triple and a homer. After the last game – the homer – we were ready to fly somewhere. On the plane, it was Joe Maddon. He came and gave (me) a four-gallon (bucket of) ice cream. After that everybody was calling me the Ice Cream Man.”
So, the question had to be asked, what is his favorite ice cream?
“Coconut,” Lobaton said.
“Now maybe I’m going to get a new nickname here,” he added, smiling. “I’m okay with whatever they want to call me.”