The Tao of Catch:
Generations of Bonding

Valentine M. Smith
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My father and I played catch over forty years ago, as early as when I was six or seven, and I had just gotten my first ball glove. The memories remain vivid, he still in shirt and tie, with *his* childhood glove, an unbelievable relic from the '30s, and me with a shiny new Mickey Mantle glove, and a new hardball. It's spring, the lilacs are blooming - I always think of lilacs when I play catch to this day - and he and I are on the sidewalk in front of our house just before dinner, sixish, tossing that white, white ball back and forth, laughing and giggling, he very patiently catchig most of my wild throws and I missing most of his, scrambling all over the neighbor's yard chasing the errant ball. We did it off and on until I was 12, and almost always, the ritual was the same, at the same time, though over time my throws got more accurate, and I caught most of what was thrown to me. We had fun, it was one of the few ways dad and I could have just time for us.

I'm on a ball field three blocks from my house with thirty other kids, all boys from our block, and the teams are being picked. Jimmy Graff, my next door neighbor, and I, both being smaller guys, and knowing we won't be picked first, are throwing the ball back and forth, listening to the picks between throws. Long before I knew about Zen, this was a Zennish experience. Focus narrowed to voices echoing in our ears, throwing that ball back and forth with intensity, only paying attention to the ball and the sound of our names.

Later that year. It's deep in November, cold already, just around freezing. Gloves weather. We are tired of football. So, one of the guys finds a softball, and we throw the ball deep into dusk - huge towering throws that didn't go far, but real, real high, and then plummeting very fast, stinging our hands through your rabbit fur-lined gloves, long barely arcing throws that went half the block, cold air rusing in and out of your lungs, sweating inside your clothes from the exertion. Finally, the ball couldn't be seen any more, and we all agreed as one to stop. Wonderful closure to a very time-locked experience, one that still is brightly vivid all these years later.


I've been locked up three years. The authorities decide we need to be out more, and we are allowed to play softball. Outside. Where we didn't go often because of constant escape attempts. But, it's a summer day in 1963, hot, humid, sun blazing in the Michiagn sky. Twenty mental patients pick up teams. The attendents are the umpires. I get to play left field because I can run and catch, surely not for my hitting! Me and the center fielder are throwing a ball back and forth. For a few minutes, by focusing on that white pill flying back and forth, being locked up, being here with these guys, fades away, and I'm just a guy, out in a field under the warm sun, working up a satisfactory sweat throwing a ball back and forth to another guy. I don't even like this guy, a tall skinny black fellow with a mean temper. But, for a moment, all that shit doesn't matter. we are just in an idyllic situation, throwing a ball back and forth, deeply satisfied.

"Catch" changed flavor for me at this benchmark, age 16. Then, catch included the art of catching, being able to guage where the ball is going to be, and being there to meet it. In my growing up years, there were constant ball games, and catching was just another thing to learn then. But, as I grew into "catching," I understood the poetry, the music, the joy at finding and exercising the skill of being able to outwit a dumb flying ball, and snag it from it's attempted flight past me.

I am 26, and my first wife has just moved out. It is early June. 1973. Our oldest son is 4, and his brother is 1 and a half. We had just gotten the boys kiddie mitts and a plastic ball. We went out in back of her apartment building, and I was haunted by the generational tranfer of a ritual as I began patiently chasing down wild throws, listening to the giggling and huffing & puffing as the chased my throws around. Mom, dinner, all of that went out of our minds for awhile aas we just got into doing this father/son thing of throwing a ball to each other. I never was to be able to do it again with these sons - their mother moved them away a month later, and our visits after that never seemed to have time for playing catch.
I am 40, living a few blocks from a ball park where a bunch of guys go on a Saturday morning to play hardball, which I stopped playing at 13, playing softball thereafter until my mid-twenties. A friend tells me about this, and invites me to come out. I play in six games, and cannot run at all like I used to. But, I still can catch. I actually played third base once, and even overcame a life long fear of catching the sharply hit ground ball. It is warm, and one time, I came late, as did my buddy, and once again, that old Zen ritual fell into place, we shed all away but that white pill flying back and forth, only marginally aware of the game being played.

As you can see, "catch" evokes a few memories. VMS

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