The Game Called Catch (Part I)

Chrissy Wilson is a writer who lives in Reno, Nevada. She recently bought her first baseball mitt. In the coming weeks (or months), we’ll join Chrissy as she breaks in, and ultimately becomes one with that glove.

I’m a late bloomer when it comes to baseball fandom. Neither of my parents were sports people, and I was just never exposed to it. It wasn’t until I reached college and got a job with the Seattle Mariners that the excitement and obsession of being a baseball fan infected me in a way. When I hear my friends’ stories of playing catch in the backyard, trading baseball cards, and growing up with a team, I feel somehow that I missed out on an amazing part of being a baseball fan. I adore the game and am so happy it is in my life. But the fact that I never got to experience that childhood love definitely leaves my baseball story lacking.

My grandfather, in spite of the torture of not having any sons or grandsons, decided his granddaughters would have to be the ones to fulfill his son fantasies. At a very young age, in my church dress and Mary Jane shoes, he put a baseball into my hand and taught me to throw it into an old, worn glove he wore. I stood there in the leave-strewn yard wanting to go inside. But the proud look on his face every time I managed to throw the ball into his glove made it an irresistible game. “You know, girl. You could be a maaaaaajor leaaaague pitcher,” he’d say. “I think there was some curve to that one!” “Steeeeriiiike.” I didn’t really understand what he was talking about it, but like every child, I was intoxicated by his pride. These were my only experiences with the game called Catch.

“You should have a mitt,” he said. He was right.

Fifteen years later, the man who represented the active, masculine patriarch of the family has a hard time walking down the hall at his retirement home for dinner. No more fishing trips, bird watching in the park, putt-putt games. The most we do is sit in his room, him talking about memories of his glory days, me telling him about my exploits in this town. One day I stopped by and told him about a date I had gone on the night before with my boyfriend. We had gone to the Sparks Scheel’s, which (if you don’t know) is the largest sports store in the world. It’s more like an amusement park than anything. There’s a fudge shop, ferris wheel, talking president displays, and games. I told him how I had beat my boyfriend at the shotgun game, and how I threw some baseballs in the simulated throwing booth. He toothily smiled and pumped his fist in the air. “You should have a mitt,” he said. He was right.

As previously mentioned, I am a late bloomer and started playing my first games of real Catch about two years ago with friends, me borrowing their mitts. I had the time of my life and hardly noticed, until hours later, how my arm was almost numb with strain. I kept meaning to buy myself a glove, but just never got around to it. With the recent teasing of warm weather, I headed to Target, boyfriend in tow to help with the purchase. We walked up to the aisle to see a father helping his two sons pick out gloves and bats. Embarrassed of my age, I decided to do a lap around the store before heading back. When we finally arrived at the Baseball Aisle, I was nervous, looking at all the mitts. The boyfriend picked up a $10 softball mitt, placing it in my hands.

“It’s for softball? And it’s awfully cheap?”

“It’s just a mitt,” he replied. “You need a longer one like this if you want to play with us.” By us, he meant a softball league him and his friends are starting in Summer. “Let’s just get you playing the game, before you worry about getting a fancy mitt.”

“This isn’t kickball. I’ll be better at this. I know it.” He rubs the back of my neck with a face that doesn’t believe.

I had joined his friends for a kickball league in the Fall. Most of the games I spent in the outfield where I never saw any action, and when I was up to kick, our captain kindly told me to stand there and hope for a walk. One night, though, we had a rare 12 run lead. So as I got ready to walk up to the plate, the captain told me to hit it if I wanted. I DID want it. It was my moment. I was about to shine. None of them had any idea how hard I could kick that damn ball. I stood there. The ball rolled past far outside the strike zone. “Ball!” Then I saw my moment come rolling up to my feet. I ran up and kicked the hell out of it. To everyone’s amazement it soared through air over the heads of the infield. I was astonished at myself. I had a hit! I imagine that I looked like the cartoon roadrunner, I was so excited and my feet were moving so fast. I was about to show them all.

Easier said than done.

I don’t know exactly what went wrong. But my feet knotted together and I fell, arms flailing, dust rising around my skidding failure of a body. I was mortified. I could hear my team in the dugout to my right. Half of them were laughing loudly. The other half were yelling at me to get up, that I could still make it to first base. I picked myself up and jogged to the base and in the nick of time…..was tagged out. Defeated, I returned to the dugout, sat down and buried my face in my boyfriend’s shirt, wanting to cry. My hands were bleeding, my hip hurt, and I had once again (as I always, always do) failed athletically. I could feel his chest convulsing with suppressed laughter. It really must have been an amusing site, but I never returned to that kickball field.

“Baseball is different,” I told him in that Target store. We eventually decided on a 12”, tan, Rawlings mitt. I tried it on my hand. It was stiff. But I dreamt of all the future wear and tear I was going to earn. We took my fresh mitt, and his worn boyhood one to a local park. In the sunlight and Spring-like weather we ate the picnic we had packed. Once we had rested from our eating, we saw the grey clouds and felt the stinging chill breeze anticipating rain roll in. It’s Spring though, we’d have another chance. But, no, it’s not Spring. In the week that followed, it snowed and temperatures plummeted.

So the mitt that is finally mine sits in the corner of my room, still intact, perfect and imperfect in its lack of experience. And I, like a child wanting to grow up and see the world, sit here looking at my glove, still waiting for my own game of Catch.

4 Responses to “The Game Called Catch (Part I)”

  • Awesome post. Welcome to the world of Catch, Chrissy.

  • This actually almost brought tears to my eye. Not because it’s a heartwarming story (although it is!), but because it’s the opposite of my own sad history of Catch.

    Basically, I’ve lost the ability to throw a ball. I went through three or four straight years in college where I just didn’t get out there and toss a ball around, but I just assumed that the same cliches would apply to catch-playing and bike-riding. A year after I graduated, I got a roommate who wanted to play catch in the park around the corner. Mind you, I’d thrown plenty of objects in the years between my games of catch: footballs, frisbys, ping pong balls, balled-up pieces of paper. Just not a baseball.

    I won’t horrify you with the details, suffice it to say that I just couldn’t throw. My grip, my arm motion, my release point, everything was all wrong. I had forgotten. And the cruelest detail is that it’s shaping up to be impossible for me to improve. No one has the patience to play “catch” with a grown man who throws the ball 20 feet off-target. I could go out and practice by myself, but I honestly don’t want to be seen in public struggling to do what almost any child can do purely by instinct. It shames me, not as a boy, but as an American.

    So, Chrissy, I’m looking forward to reading about you and your mitt’s journey. Be good to it, but be good to your arm, too.

  • great post. it flooded me with memories of me forcing my little sister to throw a tennis ball around in our grandparents back yard on summer afternoons, while I peppered her with encouragement.

    hope yer glove gets well worn,

  • While my love affair for the game now stems from stadium visits and third jerseys, it certainly began from the simple pleasure in having just a ball and glove. Countless days lying in my bed and tossing a tennis ball into my first glove (didn’t get a baseball until much later). I’m looking forward to reading about this journey.

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