Having A Catch

25 03 2008

The first time we tried, my father hit me. Mom laughed. My jaw hurt.

The second time we played catch, we used a softer baseball.

As time went on, we worked through bloody noses and broken egos. With the 20-percent-leather black, fluorescent-blue-laced Bo Jackson glove on my left hand, we inched back up to the big leagues of backyard ball. Time aged and Dad and I began to stretch out the yard, the ball arcing across the spring and deep into autumn.

There was a time when catch was the endgame, nothing more. When a simple head nod stole both of us away into the backyard, gloves snapping in the sunlight and tendons tensing and recoiling as the ball rolled off our fingertips — it does roll, we forget, and you feel the rip of the laces just before it takes off. It’s pure. It’s just a line, going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth and I’ll be glad to argue (and we should sometime), that catch is the highest form of human communication.

First of all, there’s not a better forum for bullshitting. You can talk and talk and talk and forget, ultimately, that you’re doing anything beyond talking. Your body goes into a version of automation. Just catch, step, throw.

And not only that, you’re hurtling an object that could do some damage at somebody, expecting they’ll catch it, and then fully expecting they’ll throw it back to you in the only place they should — at your nose. Trust isn’t falling backwards, hoping an employee will catch you. Trust is asking somebody to fire five ounces of nostril-seeking cushioned, corked leather.

But as time ages, so it grows more complex, and catch gives way to more sophisticated games. Catch becomes real ball games. Conversation becomes business. Ideals, joys and passions become commodities. But deep down, all of life’s game’s, just like baseball, are just derived from the simple game of catch.

When you reduce every baseball game, if your team plays catch the best, you’ll win almost every time (because, of course, if the pitcher and catcher are interrupted in their game of catch by your bat, you’ve got yourself a chance). Same as in life. All you ever need to know, you learned in kindergarten? Bullshit. You learn it in Little League. You learn it playing catch.

Giving, sharing, receiving. Working to get better. The beauty in not only precision but experimentation — remember first seeing a curveball? It was like the universe burped.

Catch is where we learn not to get out of the way, that the best way to deal with things is to position yourself directly in front of them. Phil Rizzuto once got a call from an angry mother because her son, who was told by Rizzuto that the best way to catch a pop-up was to ‘put his nose under it’ followed his advice literally.

It’s where we learn that if we work hard enough, we will get better — we will get stronger. But it’s also where, I fear, we’ll learn that we’ll also get worse as we get old.

Catch broke apart, then connected Ray Kinsella and his pop in Field of Dreams. And hell, without that, there’s no If you build it, he will come. Pop Kinsella didn’t come for the steak.

Catch is the reason I went to my prom with a black eye. I was long-tossing before a game my senior year against our archrivals, turned away to mention something to one of my teammates, thought I got the bounce, and then positioned my left eye socket directly in front of the ball’s trajectory. Kid had a hell of an arm, too.

Catch gives us stories. It gives us a chance to build relationships and to reflect on what’s come and what’s ahead. But most importantly, catch gives us a break. Catch pauses time, connects us to the seasons. And on this Tuesday, the first day of the 2008 baseball season, dig out the glove. Smell the leather, the pine tar residue, and remember.

For baseball, put more eloquently than it is on this page, here’s a good list of some baseball quotes. I’m not usually into quote compendiums, but, hey…it’s a special day. And it’ll be a great way to spend 15 minutes at work.