You can tell the people who grew up playing catch from those that did not. It begins with the way that they wait. Some smile with relaxed anticipation, confidence and enthusiasm. Others aren’t at ease. They tense and a grimace of dread comes over them. Sometimes they hold up a protected hand.
My dad played catch with me. We never lived together but whenever I was at his house or went to houses of his friends, magically, some projectile would appear and we would throw it between us or he would prod me to throw it with someone else. Those were high stakes catches. I knew that my dad wanted me to make him proud. Catching and throwing was a way to do that.
I played catch year-round: baseballs, footballs, Frisbees, soft balls, hard balls, whiffle balls. We played catch. Sometimes under the glow of city street lights. Sometimes in the glare of a hot sun. Sometimes in the rain or the snow or cold so brutal that the impact of the ball on your hands would sting and turn them red and then numb.
The distance between the people says something about the catch. There has to be the expectation that the other person can reach. There has to be the feeling that you can. There is a need for some accuracy. I do not think that I have had a true friend with whom I did not play catch.
You remember your catches. It is not unlike remembering the times that you were kissed. An easy feeling develops. People remember catches between them. There is a bond that is established. You gauge coordination. It resets the way that you think about a person. It is like working together. You remember participants. I wonder if everyone does and if they recall that bond?
There are those competitive catches, when you measure what your partner has to offer, you push boundaries. Then there are those times when you try to aid your partner’s success. You toss easily and with obvious direction. Cooperation and competition are joined and related. It is the essence of the process.
Sometimes catch is like foreplay, it’s used to warm up, but other times it is the main event. Can catches be epiphanies? I can remember them as if my body is moving in slow motion and the world has slowed down.
When I played baseball as a kid, I was a catcher and a first baseman. I didn’t like being a catcher but I could do it. I didn’t close my eyes when the batter swung, although I wanted to. The gear was hot and the “cup” uncomfortable, so often I didn’t wear one. Until the day that Danny threw a fast ball and I missed it and it lodged right between my legs where the cup should have been. I went into shock immediately on impact. I could not move except for the involuntary reaction of closing my legs which had the unfortunate byproduct of keeping the ball lodged right where it struck as I slowly keeled over, the ball dribbling out. My friends saying that I looked like I had laid an egg. After that, I decided that it was easier to put up with the chafing of the cup.
Conversely, I loved to do a stretch and scoop at first base. You could see the throw coming low. You had to trust your eye hand coordination and the glove. You could feel it in the web, and then the appreciative smile from the infielder who threw it. These few seconds of captured smiles and catches… What causes us to remember them so vividly? You wonder if through the decades those glimpses exist only for you or if they are shared as well?
I only really remember one catch with my brother. We were both married and he came to where Val and I were living in Fairlawn. I was coaching football and when he saw the ball lying around, he said, “Want a catch?” We were never easy talking with each other. I was a shadow and the older brother with whom he never lived and who disappeared for years at a time.
His arm was stronger than mine and he rifled the ball in my direction with poise and determined speed. He was going to show his older brother, and he did. Somehow it became easier to talk while we were throwing the ball. It felt right and, upon reflection, somehow sad that this was our only truly memorable catch. Maybe if we had more of them we would be in contact today. I don’t really know, but I do believe in the power of catch.
It’s calming and exhilarating at the same time. The person puts a little bit of himself into each throw, and as you receive it, you accept what you have been given. It is a conversation without words. It can be a response to harsh words and then the projectile is not flung with the speed of competition. It is hurled with an expression of anger. Not quite a punch, but it travels with that velocity.
Catch can be love. When Val and I were first married, we bought a fuzzy tennis ball that came with a set of Velcro paddles. They may still be in my barn, the Velcro worn and the original ball long since chewed by Keats. This was cooperative catch, and we would try to make it last. She would inevitably say, “just a couple more” and I would be disappointed. I loved playing catch with her. I enjoyed those exchanges so and I do not believe that I will ever throw the Velcro paddles away.
It can be interspecies. Although I deeply love my Frisbee sessions with Fitzgerald, he brings it back. He does not throw it. But my Mom had a Bichon named Dandy. If you took a soft beach ball, Dandy would head butt it back, soccer style. We went on and on in the basement for hours. After that he would run downstairs and wait each time I arrived. We played catch. In that instinctive way Dandy lives for me, playing catch.
Catch is a problem solver. Maybe if people so at odds could just play catch for a while something would change. Maybe just a softening that grows out of that mutual respect given by catch. I know that there are hypothetical catches. I know that sometimes a teacher feels that he is playing catch with his students. That is a fine blend of cooperative and competitive catch. However, there is something about the engagement of other senses. What does eye hand trigger in the brain? There is something about its enduring qualities.
Field of Dreams comes to a conclusion with a catch. It heals. It crosses lines. It feels fine.