Catfish used to be known as a simple bottom-feeding fish -- or perhaps a good baseball nickname like the one belonging to Hall of Fame pitcher Jim “Catfish” Hunter.
But now South Carolina’s most famous former pitcher has gotten a first-hand lesson in the word’s newest meaning. Taken from an independent movie and an MTV series of the same name, the term “catfish” refers to a person who pretends to be someone they're not by using social media as well as cell phone calls and texts to create false identities in order to pursue fictitious romances.
Michael Roth has never seen the movie or the television show, but he revealed Thursday on his blog that over a two-year period he encountered a situation similar to what Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o is saying happened to him.
Roth, who pitches in the Los Angeles Angels organization after a storied four-year career for the Gamecocks, states that a woman claiming to be “Hope Porter” from Texas first contacted him after the 2010 College World Series when he was pitching in a collegiate summer league in Maine.
She told him that she was a blonde from the University of Texas and that she had gotten his number from someone in a Gamecocks shirt when she was attending the CWS in Omaha. Soon the texts turned into frequent calls – with an area code from the Austin, Tex. area– as well as some head-shot photos.
As he tried to find out more about her, he continued the phone relationship because he found it to be quizzical and entertaining. While he admitted the attention was flattering, he also understood that something wasn’t quite right about the mysteriousness of her calls, especially when he couldn’t locate her on Facebook, Twitter or MySpace, places on the Internet where many college-age students have a presence.
“I’m sure somebody has that name, but did that girl who was talking to me exist? There was definitely a girl behind it,” Roth told The State on Friday. “When I would talk to her on the phone, it was the same girl’s voice every time. Was that her real name? I don’t think so.”
She never gave him complete answers when he would try to glean more details about her identity. There would be periods when the calls or texts would slow or stop, but she would always pop back up. At a couple of points, she offered to meet him, first at the 2010 football game between USC and Arkansas in Columbia and then in Omaha at the 2011 CWS, which also featured Texas as a participant. But she didn’t show up either time.
Unlike Te’o, who would go on to embellish the nature of his relationship, Roth maintained a healthy skepticism. Like many others, Roth doesn’t know quite what to make of the level of Te’o’s involvement in his purported “catfish” situation.
“Some people wonder if this really happens. Could Manti Te’o really go through this? I think, yes, to some degree. But I think there’s a lot of deception by him as well,” Roth said. “I thought it was good for me to just put it out there and share an experience I thought was entertaining. Maybe someone can learn to use some common sense like I did and pick up on some cues. Also, you should stay away emotionally so you don’t have a big embarrassment.”
Once Roth ran Porter’s number through a Google search, he discovered she had done the same thing to others who discussed it in an online chat room. That was enough for him to realize the creepiness of the ongoing calls outweighed their entertainment value. So he called her last fall and sternly told her never to contact him again. And she hasn’t, although he has learned from another former 2010 CWS player on a different team that she did the same to him.
Roth still doesn’t know why “Hope Porter” started calling him, however.
“You want to try to figure out what the motivation is behind it all,” he said. “I don’t know, maybe that’s what they do for fun or maybe there’s some sort of business plan where they get paid to do this. It’s just a weird, weird situation.”