Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tom Ley - The Importance of Catch

Charlie and Sam Playing Catch

Tom Ley posted this article at The Good Men Project on the importance of playing catch. Like Tom in this article, I did not have a father to play catch with me - I had a father for a while, and he was a huge baseball fan and wanted me to play ball, too, but he never wanted to play catch with me.

I was not a very good baseball player. I was better than most kids, but not as good as I was at football, soccer, or basketball. While my father was still alive, I chose soccer in the spring over baseball, and I was sure at the time that I had forever disappointed him.

But I did like to play catch with my friends to pass time on a cool spring Saturday afternoon. Those are some of my best memories from childhood - throwing the ball back and forth, talking about our favorite players (Willie Stargell and Willie Mays), practicing trick catches, or just shooting the shit about whatever.

I don't know if kids play catch like that anymore - I hope so.

I stopped playing catch because soccer became a year around sport for me by the time I reached high school, but for Tom Ley stopped for different reasons . . . .

The Importance of Catch

When your brother is the closest thing you’ve got to a father, sometimes playing catch means a little bit more.

I didn’t come to love baseball the same way most people do, or at least not the same way that movies like Field of Dreams and The Natural would have you believe most people do. According to the final scene in each of those movies, baseball is a game that’s shared between fathers and sons. The all-American father passes down his knowledge and love of the game to his son by teaching him all about the wheel play and the double switch. The sprightly young kid starts wearing his ball cap to bed at night and asks his father if he wants to have a catch every Sunday afternoon, and the lifeblood of the American Pastime is replenished.

As a kid who grew up without a father, I didn’t quite fit into this narrative. Yet somehow, by grade school, I was head-over-heels in love with baseball. I spent large portions of my young life poring over Becketts to find out how valuable my baseball cards were, memorizing and imitating the batting stances of my favorite baseball players (I had Ken Griffey Jr. totally nailed) and most importantly, playing catch in the backyard with my older brother.

Like most kids do who don’t have fathers, I’ve spent a great deal of my young life seeking out replacement father figures, surrogates who could provide me with some kind of hodge-podge blueprint of masculinity. Lucky for me, my brother, only four years my senior, was more than capable of serving as the most important of these surrogates.

I’ve always loved and respected my brother more than anyone else in my life. If there was a song he liked, I liked it too. If there was a TV show or video game he liked, I liked it too. I respected him so much that sometimes I got huge amounts of enjoyment out of simply watching him do stuff. I’d lie on the couch and watch him build what I thought were the most impressive Lego structures that had ever been constructed. I’d sit over his shoulder and watch with unwavering focus as he played Star Wars X-Wing on our computer (we had it on floppy disk, because we were cool). So it’s not surprising that when my brother started getting interested in baseball, I was eager to follow his lead.

He ushered me into the game as well as any father ever could have. With unyielding patience, he taught me how to catch pop flies, how to properly grip a fastball, and how to line up my knuckles on the bat handle.

He even taught me how to pitch. He spent hours squatting across the yard from me, receiving pitch after pitch while giving out advice and encouragement until I could pop strikes into his mitt with ease. He did all of this while he was, himself, still a child.

Those early years spent throwing pitches in the backyard until the sun went down made for some of my fondest childhood memories. Regrettably, due to a lurking smallness within myself, my affection for these moments would begin to wane rather quickly.

As I grew older my love for baseball intensified, but it was a love that existed in the abstract. I was enchanted by the idea of baseball, by the fact that the design and mechanics of the game were so radically elegant and unique. There was no time limit, no goals standing at opposite ends of a long field or court, and the game’s most important players only showed up once every five days.

Read the whole article.

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