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Playing Catch 365 Days a Year
It started with a dream. An audacious dream of wearing the white and scripted blue of the Kansas City Royals, running on to the field, hearing the cheers of the crowd, signing my name on my own Topps baseball card. I was 8, in the second grade, with a dream bigger than my brain could fully process. I didn’t know then how someone became a professional baseball player. I just knew I wanted to be one. Dad bought me a glove, taught me how to catch pop-ups, and played catch with me for years. He was my catcher when I got pitching lessons. He was my catch-partner on family vacations. He was my catch-partner almost every day when he pulled in the driveway after work. I never asked him if he thought I could play professional baseball. It was my dream. My last season in high school, I was a smallest-guy-on-the-team 16-year old sophomore benchwarming for the junior varsity. The next spring, I put up my glove and bat and grabbed my golf clubs. Over the years, I played on a couple of slow pitch softball teams, but slow pitch never held the appeal for me that baseball did. I went to college, got married, had kids, and got a job. Through more than a dozen moves, I always knew where my glove was. I played catch with my wife on the front lawns and backyards of our new homes. I played catch with my first-born daughter when I helped coach her t-ball team. I even played catch with Royals eight-time Gold Glove-winning second baseman, Frank White. The story I wrote about our day together became the very first piece I was paid to publish. Throughout my childhood, I played catch with one singular goal in mind — to become a professional baseball player. As an adult, I played catch to help me stay in touch with the kid inside who once believed I was good enough to be a professional baseball player. I averaged a couple of games of catch each year, just enough to make my arm sore for a few days following the effort. And then 2018 happened. Inspired and encouraged by my daughters, I played catch every single day. For a year. In 10 different states. With more than 530 different catch partners. The effort was unofficially sponsored by Icy Hot, Dr Pepper, and ibuprofen. Dad and I made it to the Field of Dreams movie site, meeting journalist Bob Dyer and octogenarian Stan Sipka for catch on the sacred field in Iowa. At the field I was reminded of the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing. I played catch with several notable female ballplayers — Mary Moore of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League; Little Bear, the youngest pitcher for the Beijing-Shougang Eagles; and All-World Pitcher Simone Wearne, the only female inducted into Australia’s National Baseball Hall of Fame. In a world and culture that promotes a fear of strangers, playing catch helps make new friends. Playing catch encouraged my sense of curiosity. I felt like Calvin and Hobbes, going out on an adventure with a friend, making observations, and learning about all of life. Whether it was bad weather or a broken glove or a cancelled partner, playing catch every day taught me to be adaptable, flexible, and creative. Playing catch was the best experiment in learning about community. I got to know others and myself better through shared experiences and practiced my empathy, cooperation, and communication skills. From 21-month old Benton to Neighbor Bob the Nonagenarian and friends at all levels of baseball experience, playing catch really did bring people together. Every day, without fail — every single day — playing catch left me with a renewed sense of hope and deep feelings of optimism and wonder. Playing catch gave me the gift of living fully in the present. Playing catch, like life, is all about relationships. I now have friends that I text and email and connect with across all social media platforms because they were catch partners. We live in a play-deprived culture. We have asked teens (and younger!) to start specializing in sports, picking and choosing and investing thousands of hours and dollars driving to top-dollar tournaments in hopes of spurring a professional career. In focusing on and pushing toward an unknown future, we have ignored the gift of the present and one of the most important lessons. To be human is to play. Play is not motivated by the distant ends. Play is for the joy found in the moment, the wonder discovered in the whimsy, the profound beauty of stretching imaginations. I took a 29-year break from playing baseball competitively. In August of 2019, with my arm in fantastic shape, I tried out for the Grip’N’Rip Baseball League, a highly-competitive wood bat league. More than 130 players tried out for only 84 spots. Somehow, I made the cut. The fourth oldest player in the league. The league requires all players to sign a contract and pays all players — $1. At the age of 45, my dream finally came true. I was a professional baseball player. But my catch-playing dreams are far from over. With my daughter’s help, I’m now working on a knuckleball in anticipation of the day the Royals ask me to throw out a first pitch. (Her knuckleball is easily ten times better than mine.) I’m hoping to participate in 2 Guinness World Records: The Longest Game of Catch Between Two People and the World’s Largest Game of Catch. I’ve even written a book, A Year of Playing Catch which will publish September 2020, hoping to inspire others to take up their gloves and attempt the #Catch365 challenge. Why play catch? Because playing catch creates powerful memories with those who matter the most.
Why I Play Catch
Playing catch to me is personal. There may be no other activity as personal as playing catch. You see the person as who they are, they somehow open up to you and you to them. With every throw people are either caught thinking about years gone by when there was nothing more to do than play catch or simply caught in the moment and a smile suddenly illuminates their eyes. I think a lot about playing catch. I’ve done it most of my life. I was blessed to be born into a family where sports weren’t demanded but embraced. I remember countless hours playing with my father and brother. I even remember endlessly pelting my grandmother’s underhand fastball when my brother and I would spend a week in the summer with her. It wasn’t her fault it was the best she could do. She didn’t know that as a pitcher you can’t live in the middle of the plate and instead aimed for it. I guess she got what she deserved, constantly dodging a never-ending borage of comebackers. Me and my son Roman breaking up a road trip by playing catch in Alabama. We don’t always get what we deserve in life. Not sure I deserved the suburbia lifestyle with neighborhood friends who appeased my obsession with sports by being teammates or adversaries. Those countless summer days of playing until you outlasted the sun seemed to be as plentiful as my grandmother’s fastballs down the center of the plate. As a kid you never think about those days ending. Now, my grandmother and the big oak trees that marked her property are both gone and so are the days of playing catch with an innocence. My first team was the Orioles in Pflugerville Little League sponsored by Woody's Auto. Never wore jeans to a game because they didn't play in jeans on television. I’m keenly aware of my days of playing catch are numbered, especially of playing catch with my father. I’m not so sure why the game of catch has meant so much to my life. It just does. My eyes feel with tears as I think about it. Maybe it’s because of all the time my father and I spent together working on something, fastball, curveball, changeup, or just throwing harder. Or maybe it’s all the time we worked on nothing. We just simply wanted the peace and tranquillity of a game of catch. I loved it. Loved every minute of it and if I could go back I would for just one more game of catch. Those endless summer days, games of catch, and my grandmother’s fastballs all unfortunately have come to an end. Maybe that’s why I have such an appreciation of playing catch with my son. It’s a beautiful thing to be blessed with a partner to play catch. It’s also a blessing to live in the naivety of a child who doesn’t consider the end, only the present. Maybe that’s the beauty of playing catch. It keeps you in the present with whoever you are with. There is nothing else in the world. Just you, a partner, and a ball floating through the air. There is no time, no years, just catch. The years have seemed to catch up to me. The hardest ball I’ve ever thrown, I likely threw almost 30 years ago. Somehow my decreasing skills haven’t diminished my love of playing catch. The last meaningful team I played on at Concordia Lutheran College. We won the conference and finished 40-18. Biggest win was against Baylor. The field is no longer there and it's now Concordia University. I contemplate the day I no longer play catch and consequently my own mortality because the day I can no longer play catch is the day I am no longer alive, if only figuratively and not literally. To this day I still long for the day of putting on a uniform, feeling the dirt between my spikes, and running on a field filled with possibilities. The possibility of making a diving catch or hitting a home run. All of those possibilities are gone now and I’m left with simply playing catch. It’s more than enough. It’s all I could ask or hope for. When that hope is gone, I will have lost everything in my life that has always been good. From growing up to growing old, playing catch has been the one constant in my life.
A Major League Game of Catch
Growing up in North Alabama, playing catch with my dad was something that I took for granted. When I became a father, I was told a week before my son was born that he would be born with dwarfism but that didn’t stop me from sharing the same passion for the game with him. By the time he was walking, he wanted to throw something to me. It started with small balls that I would throw and he would attempt to catch and then he would throw them back. It didn’t take long for him to be ready to grab a glove and want to play catch with a baseball. He quickly gravitated to playing baseball and I decided that I wanted immerse him into the game. We had just lost our minor league team in Huntsville, AL, so I went to the next best thing and started taking him around to MLB parks. In 2014, my beloved Kansas City Royals went to the playoffs for the first time in 29 years. I remember thinking in 1985, the last time The Royals made the postseason, that I wish my dad would have taken me to the World Series. When it finally happened after such a long time, I knew there was only one option, I needed to take my son. The Royals started out in the Wild Card Game, where they won in comeback fashion. After that game, we decided to follow them until they were finished. Next, we went to Anaheim, where the Royals swept the Angels in 3 games, but something even more special happened that I didn’t realize was going to be a life changer. We arrived at the stadium before the gates opened and stood in a long line trying to be one of the first in the stadium to watch batting practice. While in line, my 8 year old asked if we could play catch. We had our gloves with us to try to catch a foul ball and I had 2 baseballs to try to get autographs on. With a little nervousness, I pulled one of those brand new baseballs out of the bag and we started playing catch. Of course, since he was only 8, the ball bounced on the concrete several times, so it was in no condition to get autographs on. The next day, he asked the same thing, so I naturally pulled out the scuffed ball and we played catch. We wound up going to almost every game that Post Season and by the time it was over, we had played catch in Anaheim, Baltimore, San Francisco and, of course, Kansas City. In 2015, we were preparing to go to Chicago to catch a game, so I pulled my baseball bag out to get it ready when I saw that baseball. It struck me that we had played at 4 stadiums with the same ball, so why not keep it going. In 2015, The Royals went on another magical run, but the magic for me came from a special ball. By the time the Royals won the World Series, we had played catch with the same baseball at 12 stadiums. I thought that was a pretty amazing accomplishment, but we decided that we needed to do them all. We made one rule, we had to be in the vicinity of the stadium while we were going to watch a game. We planned trips when teams in the general vicinity were all playing on the same weekend to try to get as many as possible. We went on side trips to minor league stadiums. We went to landmarks like the Negro Leagues Museum, the Field of Dreams site in Iowa and even the Indy 500. Most of the time, we played catch in the parking lot of the stadium, but occasionally, we would play in a field across the street. One of the coolest was across from Yankee Stadium, where the original stadium sat. We played catch at home plate of the House where Ruth Built. Occasionally, we got to play on the warning track at the stadium as some of the teams heard about our journey. It took us 6 years traveling the country, but on July 4, 2019, there were more than fireworks at Dodger Stadium, we played catch with our baseball at the final MLB Stadium. It was an awesome experience, we got to play catch on the warning track behind home plate. That day, we sort of retired the ball to our mantle in a protective case. It is always a discussion topic about why there is such a dirty baseball sitting there. Now you know the story. We will bring it back out as new stadiums are opened. We are planning a trip to the new stadium in Arlington in 2020. One place that I hope to go over the next few years in the MLB Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Over the years, we have collected many great pieces of memorabilia such as bats and balls from MLB superstars and Hall of Famers, but this baseball is the only one my wife will allow in the living room as it is the most special one we own. It may be worth pennies to most, but it is worth millions to us. You can play catch with your son everyday, but one day, you will wish you had one more.
Catch Was Always There
Playing catch has been something that has been present in my life almost as long as I can remember. My earliest days in the backyard with my dad, or at the local park, or out in the street on a warm summer day, the game of catch was always there. With both of my sisters, or a neighborhood friend, and even my mom, I can say I have been playing catch my entire life. As a college athlete now, the game of catch has taken on a different look, but the underlying feeling is still there. It might be a bit more serious now, with my coach looking to critique the smallest mechanics of my motion, but it is still always the best part of practice. Playing catch with a purpose is a line many coaches are fond of using, but there can be multiple purposes to the game of catch. At my level, yes it is to get better, to hone mechanics, and improve command. But looking at it more big picture, its purpose is to share an emotional experience with someone else, because the game of catch is an emotional experience with a lot of meaning behind it. Games of catch are more vivid in my mind than many other memories because of the joy and emotion that it brings with it. The enjoyment of the ball snapping in your glove and throwing it right back to your partners chest, that is something I know will never leave me.
Playing Catch is a Family Affair
Playing catch is important to me because it is foreign…. I grew up in Australia and our version of catch was playing cricket or football in the backyard. Now living in NY and raising our two children with my wife, we all play catch as a family. Simple and traditional, it is always a time when each of us can just relax, put on a mitt, throw a ball and make some impressive catches. It brings out the imagination of our kids, they make up stories of bottom of the ninth scenarios where they must make the catch or make the correct pitch. It is amazing to me how performing such a simple act makes us all smile and the time just flows by as each throw is perfected and each catch is narrowly completed. Adding that we use Nokona traditional gloves just makes it all the more traditional and there is never a picnic where the ball and gloves are not the first items packed.
It's Never too Late to Play Catch
Growing up with five brothers and watching them play baseball while having to cook and clean was no fun at all. To make up for lost time, I played catch with my two boys for hours on end and just recently, my husband and I started playing again. During our quarantine, we play every day and sometimes twice with distance and accuracy steadily improving over time. Playing catch is better than therapy, you cannot play without a smile and I am developing great upper arms to boot!
Play Catch is a Family Connection
Like so many of the things in life that you do and give little thought, I completely ignored what playing catch meant to me until I was introduced to “Play Catch.” I believe that I began playing organized baseball in approximately 1951 at the age of eight. About the only thing I remember from this eventful season with Bell County Insurance is getting to the game; jumping out of the car and playing catch. We must have been a sight in uniforms that didn’t fit and caps with no crowns but we were on the field and people were watching us. I can remember playing catch with neighborhood kids. Often, one would be the pitcher and the other would be the catcher/umpire and we switched positions when we struck out the side. More than one fight started over one’s inability to properly call balls and strikes. Playing catch was really something special when you got to play with someone’s older brother or an adult. And if you ever played with a member of the high school team you were truly at a different level. I only remember playing catch with my dad once. He was trying to teach me to pitch a baseball underhanded. I pitched one game using this technique and beat one of the elite teams in the league that year. After that game, I was never able to control throwing that way. As an adult, I coached youth league baseball and my youngest son for many years. I’m not sure that either one of us realized what we were doing or what it would mean to us in later years. It took “Play Catch” to make me think about it all. Very few of us coached a kid who is now in the major leagues but all of us had the opportunity to develop good citizens and fond memories for those kids in later life. If I had to do it over again, I would have a “Play Catch” session before every game involving parents, siblings, friends, and anyone my players wanted to invite. Just think of the people I could have gotten more deeply involved and the relationships I could have strengthened through “Play Catch.”
Playing Catch with a Special Glove
I'm a little league baseball mom. Some moms have the star player or sons who are really gifted athletically. My son, Rhett, is not the fastest. He doesn't always hit or catch the ball. Rhett has a gentle spirit. He loves an All-American game and enjoys being part of a team. The game has brought Rhett and his dad closer. They spend hours hitting balls and playing catch. In the beginning, Rhett was having trouble catching with is own glove, so my husband let him borrow a Nokona he invested in a couple of years ago when he started coaching middle school baseball. After some practice, he said "Dad, can I use your special glove at my ballgames? I don't want to catch with any other glove because none are like this one." So, three nights a week we go to ballgames with the very special Nokona glove in tow. Some day Rhett wants to have his own. Or at the rate we are going, dad may just have to replace his. :) Playing catch in the back yard is more than baseball practice. It's about family time together. This is what memories are made of. It doesn't matter what kind of athletic ability our son has, he feels like the star when he's playing with his dad and using his dad's special glove on the field. Angela
Playing Catch for the Kids
Sometime during the 2016 Detroit Tiger season, I noticed the first base coach, Omar Vizquel, was coming out of the dugout with a baseball in his hand. I stood up waved my glove and yelled “ Hey Omar over here!”. He looked up and smiled, pointed to me and threw the ball. I was ecstatic. Many more times after that first toss Omar would come out and toss me a baseball which I in turn would give to a kid sitting near by. This happened all through that season and into the next. When it was questionable that his time as a coach for us was going to continue, I decided to commemorate what a great time we had and made a poster of pictures of some of the kids who got baseballs. I presented it to him and asked him to sign one for me. It’s one of the best pieces of memorabilia I have. Thanks for letting me tell my play catch story. Kathleen
A Lifetime of Playing Catch
It all started when I was about 6 years old in a very poor neighborhood. All the children made our gloves and balls of paper wrapped with string and adhesive ribbons. The remaining part was Playing Catch. We were happy to feel that our diversity of handmade gloves and balls worked perfectly for our games. But we found that we were learning a lot to throw and catch and we wanted to play it almost every day. As we gained experience, we wanted to demonstrate the strength and accuracy of our arms and began to throw at longer distances with heavier balls. Chasing rainbow throws was a challenge for us that made us feel very athletic too and we enjoyed catching many repetitions. Over time most of us learned to play baseball and participated in organized tournaments. Good hands coordination, arm strength and throw accuracy gave me the skills to play the Shortstop position, which I did until my retirement as an active player, and I know that those skills were born thanks to Playing Catch. Being so excited about baseball, I decided to open a baseball academy to develop professional career prospects, which has been in operation for 35 years, and so far I have signed 87 players to the MLB system. At the Academy, every day I continue to Play Catch with some of my prospects in the same way of those beautiful childhood days of which more than 60 years have passed, but childhood-Play-Catch still lingers in my mind-body with great support to my health. I encouraged the parents of my players to feel free to come and spend some time playing catch, some are beginners, but they found a good feeling from Playing Catch and now they always come routinely to participate in our first Academy warm-up sessions. (They love to feel themselves like active players). Playing Catch is a fun and engaging activity that you don't know when to finish throwing. As an academy, Catch goes to another level, but anyway, all our players have to start training with a good warm-up Playing Catch. Once again, all players greatly benefit from the arm strength, throwing mechanics, and accuracy that Playing Catch has provided them from a young age. Outfielders have to keep Playing Catch with very long tosses. The Infields have a program-repertoire of 147 techniques for playing shortstop, most of which are fundamental techniques for routine plays, and they have to catch hundreds of ground balls every day. Once the fundamentals have been covered, they tirelessly put in extra work with tons of exotic and fantastic plays around the second base for double plays. But everything comes from Playing Catch passion. For the first time in my life, I recently had some pain in my throwing arm from doing hard housework and that prompted me to teach my left arm to Play Catch so that my right arm would get some rest. Now both arms are in good shape and I play catch with both throwing arms, I'm pretty bionic! Once again, it was an opportunity to give my players a show of resilience, this time in the passionate spirit of Playing Catch. I would like to encourage all baseball lovers to get involved Playing Catch and don't miss out on the opportunity to feel the wonder of feeling baseball also under their skin. On my side, I am more than eager to visit great Gloves Maker NoKona in Texas to personally buy my new infield glove and play catch with someone somewhere and make some friends there. Once the pandemic subsides and international flights open, I will. Now I could assure that all this story is going to be repeated but in another high level in benefit of the new baseball generation. Norberto Rivas Head Coach of NR Speeders Baseball Academy, Caracas, Venezuela. Instagram: nr_mision107mph
Playing Catch with Aaron Judge
It’s the question I posed 162 different times to 162 different people over the last year and a half. To have it asked of me, by one of the best players in Major League Baseball, will forever be one of the most surreal experiences of my entire life (and honestly, worth adding a bonus “catch number 163” to this project). Aaron Judge, the 2017 American League Rookie of the Year, the man whose number 99 jersey is the one you’ll see more than any other in the stands at Yankee Stadium these days, headed over to me and asked, “Dan, do you want to have a catch?” What struck me about getting to throw with Aaron (in addition to the fact that it was happening in centerfield at Yankee Stadium) was how similar it was to every other catch I’ve played and conversation I’ve had during all of this. I asked Judge his favorite stadium to play in NOT named Yankee Stadium. The California native told me both L.A.-area ballparks are right near the top; because of the picture-perfect weather, the history of each locale, and the incredible amount of Yankee fans that show up at both places when the Bronx Bombers are in town. He laughed at the curtain call former teammate Didi Gregorius received after hitting a go-ahead home run in the top of the 10th inning for the visiting Yankees against the Angels IN ANAHEIM in 2018 (curtain calls are almost exclusively reserved for players on the home team). I inquired about which pitcher he’s faced that’s always had his number. As Judge pondered his answer, I suggested, “Ya know, a pitcher you’ve gone 0-for-11 against” to which he responded, “Oh there are plenty of those!” He finally settled on former knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, saying, “It’s hard enough to hit when the pitcher and catcher *know* where a pitch is going and you don’t. Imagine when *you* don’t know AND *they* don’t know where it’s going!” I dreamed that something like this would have been a part of this crazy idea I came up with, but was still pretty blown away that it actually happened. Thanks to the New York Yankees for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and to my man Aaron Judge for taking the time to be catch number 163 out of @162gamesofcatch!