Thursday, December 30, 2010

THE CATCH

I played a lot of baseball from a very young age.  There was always three things that remained consistent during my ball playing years.  First I was a very good hitter.  I had good form and a level swing.  My body weight shifted in all the right places and there were times when I could almost swear I was seeing the ball hit the bat.  I would hit more line drives than ground balls or pop ups and I hit them hard.

I was also fairly fast.  I wasn't a speedster by no means but I was fast enough to make a decent run around the bases and pick up my share of doubles.  If I was focused and a fly ball was hit to me, I could usually track it down with out too much trouble.  Speed was my friend in a baseball game.  The speed along with the bat set me slightly apart from others ensuring myself a spot on whatever team I was playing with, whether it be a pick up sandlot game or an organized game.

Thirdly and what stood out the most in my baseball abilities was that I was terrible with a glove.  It wasn't so much that I didn't know how to use a glove, as I stated earlier if I was focused I was a decent outfielder.  There's that infamous word that determines many a man's fate.  That little word "if".  "If" I was focused, I would know when the batter hit the ball and would be able to track it.  Trouble was, I found it extremely difficult to stay focused while in the outfield.  The speed at which the game is played in the outfield is much slower than the speed of the game closer to the bat.  There would not be enough balls hit to where I was positioned to warrant me not checking out the nature of the outfield.  There were strange weeds and grasses out there that needed to be checked out.  I would run out to my position and manage to stay focused through maybe five or six pitches before my eye began to wander.  There were times when  I would hear the crack of the bat followed by a shouting of my name indicating the ball was headed my direction.   There was not time enough for me to scan the skies to see where the ball was so the safest thing to do was cover my head with my glove and fall to my knees.  This happened plenty of times and so I frequently found myself stuck off into left field where my distractions would be less costly to the team.

What about playing in the infield you might ask.  Frankly I was scared to death of fast moving baseballs either on the ground heading to my ankles or line drives heading to my chest.  You would find me waving my glove in the general direction of the ball while my body was heading in a complete opposite direction.  Everyone from my dad to the coach would try to explain to me to put my body in front of the ball.  Block the ball with your body they would say.  If it misses your well protected gloved hand, it would easily be stopped by your unprotected chest or thighs or knees.  They didn't understand that personally, I don't like pain.  I certainly am no fan of inviting such pain as a baseball moving fifty miles an hour and hitting me in the chest would cause.

The only defensive position I felt comfortable at was that of pitcher.  As a pitcher you are watching the ball all the way to the plate so you know exactly when it is hit and in what direction giving you plenty of time to get out of the way.  The problem was that I was a decent pitcher but not a good one.  They used me on the mound when it was needed and they put me in the outfield in order to take advantage of my hitting skills.  As earlier stated, they put me where I would do the less harm.

Then came a day that would stay in everyone's memory for a long time.  I was playing an organized game with older boys on Jay Allard's traveling team.  He occasionally took me with him on these games so he would have the required nine players to field a team and since my bat wasn't too bad, he figured the older outfielders would make up for any damage I may inflict upon the team.

It was a bright Saturday morning the day we played the game and I had been caught checking out the clover in left field more than a few times.  It was not uncommon to hear my name yelled two or three times an inning to keep me somewhat attached to the game.  It was about midway through the game I suppose when I heard from my station in left field a loud crack of the bat.  It was a line drive and it was speeding like a missile right towards me.  I heard Jay and Dad and just about everyone else on or off the field holler out my name.  I saw the ball coming and it was very clear to me that I was not afforded the time to hit the ground or run away.  This ball was going to get me.  As I braced my body for the pain that would surely ensue, I clenched my eyes shut and stuck my glove up in the air.  This was a futile attempt to show them at least I tried to catch the rocket heading toward me.  I stood there waiting for impact when all of a sudden I felt a tug on my left hand where my glove was.  It was silent for second then I heard applause and cheering and my name was being called for making such a great catch.

It took a moment for it to soak in but when I opened my eyes and looked in the glove, there was a baseball.  It was the catch of my life.  I was cheered when I went into the dugout area.  They patted me on the back and congratulated me.  Jay said something about it was a good thing my eyes were closed so I didn't know which way to run.  It was a moment that would stay with me to this day.

That night as I lay trying to drift off to sleep I envisioned Willie Mays making "The Catch" in the World Series.  I put myself in Willie's place.  A great outfielder with astounding speed making a game saving catch and throwing it back into the second baseman.  The only difference was that Willie was running with his back to the ball while I was standing the still.  Willie raised his glove up and watched the ball sail over his head and into the mitt.  My eyes were closed as tight as I could get them and I didn't know the ball was in my glove until I felt that tug on my hand and built up the courage to actually look into the glove for the baseball.  I also did not immediately  throw the ball hard to the shortstop to stop any more advancement of runners.  Thankfully my catch was the third out so there would be no advancing runners.

It may have not been a catch on the level of Willie Mays to other people but it was to me and somewhere deep inside me, I felt that if Willie was there and saw the catch, he would have been proud of me and patting e on the back along with everyone else.

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