Rants & Essays

An Enduring Game of Catch

By Bob Morris

It is almost evening, and I have just settled into my spot on the couch. I want nothing more than to slip off my shoes and be totally, blissfully idle.

Suddenly my baseball mitt comes flying from behind and lands in my lap. "Wanna play catch?" It's Dash, my ten-year-old son, the boy never seen without his baseball cap, the boy who sleeps with his mitt.

"It's almost dark," I tell him. "And I'm worn out."

He doesn't say anything. Just gives me the look that says: SOMEDAY WHEN YOU ARE OLD AND I AM GROWN, YOU'RE GOING TO REGRET EACH DAY YOU DIDN'T PLAY CATCH WHEN I ASKED YOU.

I put on my shoes. "Grab a ball."

"Already got one." He grins and flips it to me.

And the arc is renewed. The ball. The toss. Fathers playing catch with their sons.

Some people think there is too much symbolism attached to baseball. After all, they say, it's just a game. Then there's the poet and essayist Donald Hall, who writes, "Baseball is fathers and sons. Baseball is the generations, looping backward forever with a million apparitions of sticks and balls, cricket and rounders, and the gams the Iroquois played before the British came. Baseball is fathers and sons playing catch, the profound archaic song of birth, growth, age and death. The diamond encloses what we are."

Every man should possess one treasured item passed on from his father. I have my father's baseball mitt. I keep it on a shelf in the den, a trophy. Alongside today's mitts, with their sleek contour and almost robotic webbing, my father's mitt looks awkward and stubby and laughable. No padding to speak of, little more than leather skin cracking now with the years. My sons think it is funny looking, a cartoon glove that Popeye or Pluto might wear. It has only four fingers.

"That's because you're supposed to keep one finger outside the glove," my father used to tell me. "Gives you better control. Helps you close the ball up in the pocket quicker."

My father and I played catch out back beyond the orange trees, where the grass never had a chance to grow because my brothers and I wouldn't let it. Being left-handed, I was trained to be a first baseman. After putting a palm frond down to mark the bag, my father would throw wide and to the left, over my head or in the dirt, teaching me to leap and stretch and still make the out.

We would spend hours and hours just tossing the ball back and forth. "Now throw it to me with all you've got, right here." my father would say, pounding his mitt. "Burn me out."

I'd heave it at him. He'd catch it, then yank off his mitt and rub his hand in mock pain. Made me feel all big inside.

As I grew older and more distant (the way sons too often become with their fathers), playing catch was sometimes the only way we could talk. Or try. The turf between us seemed wider than ever, our only connection the path of a ball.

My father would study my throw and say, "Got to have more follow-through." Or he'd watch my catch and say, "You've got to reach out and grab it, not wait on it to come to you." Or he'd analyze my batting stance and comment, "You're not keeping your eye on the ball." Baseball talk, yeah. But I'm pretty sure it meant something more, too.

After making the distance from pitcher's mound to home plate, Dash aims his throws at me rapid-fire. "Don't rush into it," I tell him. "Warm up first."

He hurls the next one over my head, into the azaleas. "Follow through," I tell him. "You've got to have more follow-through." He rolls his eyes at me, just as I once rolled mine at my dad. But his next pitch is perfect. And the next. And the next.

I am lost in the timelessness of it all, of the endless game, of the generations, of that which connects us.

But all too soon it is dark. And all too soon fathers must stop playing catch with their sons.