BRADENTON -- The tools of Carlos Paulino’s trade include shin guards, a mask and a really big mitt.
But if Paulino wasn’t in Bradenton with the Marauders this summer, chasing his dream of being a big-league catcher, he’d be happy working with a drill, fluoride and good ol’ Mr. Thirsty.
He’d be a dentist.
“Every time I went to the dentist, it was good,” he said. “It was fun.”
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Fun? A trip to the dentist?
“I enjoyed it,” Paulino said.
He is happier, however, catching every day with the high Single-A Bradenton Marauders, who began play Thursday atop the Florida State League’s South Division in the second half of the season.
Paulino may have enjoyed his stints in the dental chair, but he fell in love with baseball from the first time he saw winter ball on television growing up in the Dominican Republic.
“I told my dad, ‘You know what? I want to do that,’” Paulino, 21, said. “He told me at the beginning, ‘No, that’s too hard for you.’”
When Paulino told his grandmother of his plans, however, he received a more favorable response.
“She told me, ‘OK, on Saturday, I will take you to the field,’” he said.
Early on, it appeared Paulino’s father knew best.
“The first week, I was hit on my mouth,” he said. “My dad said, ‘You know what? I told you, that’s too hard for you.’ And I was little bit scared at that point. But after that, things started getting better and better and better.”
But Paulino made sure his talents didn’t start and stop on the baseball field. Encouraged by his father, who works for a hotel chain, Paulino has learned to speak four languages -- Spanish, English, French and German.
It took him three years to learn English, two years to learn French and just six months to pick up German.
“When I was 16, 17, I was not sure to keep going with baseball,” Paulino said, “so I decided to study at university. ... I thought it would be good to keep going with the university.”
But his baseball future opened up in 2008 when he was signed by the Florida Marlins. He spent three years with the Marlins organization before he was dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Marauders’ parent club, this past March.
Sound defensively -- Paulino threw out 40 percent of runners (33 of 83) trying to steal last season -- Paulino has been a bit of a revelation this summer with his bat. After hitting .182 in 67 games with two different Marlins affiliates in 2010, Paulino entered Thursday batting .316 in 27 games with the Marauders.
“Carlos, he has a lot of tools,” said Marauders coach Milver Reyes, who works with the team’s catchers. “But I think one of the reasons he’s improved is because he prepares himself mentally. ... He really pays attention to the little details, and those little details are going to help him out to be on the next level.”
Paulino made a good impression on Reyes during spring training while trying to block a pitch in the dirt. Rather than move his whole body, Paulino tried to lean. Reyes told him the right way to do it and on the very next pitch, Paulino did exactly what he was told.
“That told me he makes adjustments pretty quick and fast. So he’s a smart kid,” Reyes said. “When you have kids like that, it’s easy to work.”
Paulino likes the work, too. And now that his professional baseball career has begun, he has no regrets about turning his back on dentistry.
“On this team, everybody works hard. We want to do good,” Paulino said. “It’s been a good season, and hopefully, it ends good, too.”