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Pitchers and Catchers

February 2011

by Michael O’Brien

It’s a cold windy day here in Brook Hollow this morning. The one who holds my heart started my day with a laugh; a friend on facebook was expressing the struggle to face yet another winter storm, and I’m listening to the Black Eyed Peas. Four days from now Spring training camps will open in Arizona and Florida. Pitchers and catchers will appear and begin their preparations for the upcoming year of baseball! Like the Daytona 500, Pitchers and catchers reporting is a sign that winter is fading and spring is just around the corner. We all made it through another year!

Some people don’t think much of the game of baseball, and I’ll agree it’s a bit slow compared to basketball, but it was always intended to be a slow, calm game. It’s always been a comfort to me; sometimes it’s a disappointment (Anybody remember a fan named Bartman?) but it’s one of the only games played in a park, not a stadium. A park, and the whole purpose of the game is to “earn” a run “home.” Growing up, I think we played “running bases” almost every night after dinner. Carved out a diamond from the tallgrass prairie across the street and played all day every day of summer with Barch and the Weremacher brothers. I think it was Bobby that hit me with a fastball in the face one year right after I just got my new glasses! (Maybe they weren’t quite the right prescription….) We had two wooden bats, and I had my dad’s old school style glove, and spent each summer playing my way around the diamond, pitching, catching, fielding, and sitting on our 2×8 bench.

We seldom had two full teams to play, even though the street was packed with kids, so we’d play “pitchers hand” and eliminate the infield, or play and score the game such that only the person hitting could score. I think it was one of the Gromke boys that pitched on the afternoon we got to play on the real diamond the school district built in prairie. I don’t remember what the pitch was, but do remember the thunk of the bat and watching the Barches running back from center and left. The ball hit Menard St. on the fly and bounced against the Gromke house. I looked back at that on map the other day, and it was a bit over 350 feet. I still smile at that…it would’ve been out of Wrigley on a good day!

Pitchers and catchers develop a bond of sorts. The Catcher offers a suggestion, the pitcher accepts it or doesn’t, the game progresses, the pitcher tires and at that point, the catcher trots to the mound and talks to the pitcher. I don’t know what they talk about in the major leagues, but in our sandlot it would typically be some kind of diversionary topic, gum, the new pile of dog poop that was this day’s third base “Let ’em hit, I wanna see him slide into third…” or who owed who which candy bar at the Mendard and Dempster drug store. “Lettim hit” was a way the catcher was letting the pitcher off the hook for being tired and not having the strength to do what was needed to be done.

Thats what catchers do.

Buck up the pitcher, call the pitch, not get worried when a pitch call gets shrugged off by the pitcher, and when it all goes bad and the runner is rounding the pile of poop, stands in front and defends home, taking the hit from the runner coming home while the pitcher stands behind it all.

We all took our turns pitching, catching or chasing grasshoppers in right field, and we do it still today, in the depths of winter. You might know someone who needs an “attaboy” or “attagirl” today, someone who you can see is struggling to finish out the winter. Say something to let them off the hook, make them comfortable with the struggle to get through the next blizzard, the next ice storm, or the next long day at work.

Like baseball, life is a team sport I think. Some days we pitch and get the glory for the win, some days we catch and have to take the hit. But remember spring is coming! Baseball will be back! The green grass will smell sweet, and we’ll doze in the stands on a lazy afternoon.

Watch out for those fastballs that come right at your face, don’t slide into that pile of poop, and buck up a pitcher near you today. We can’t win this game alone.1