At this point of Catch 365, every day is a new adventure. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I never played catch this many consecutive days growing up. I didn’t play baseball year round; fall was for soccer and one season of basketball. I am well-aware of the warnings and advice issued in Jeff Passan’s The Arm and am trying my best to treat my arm with wisdom and respect and lots of stretching and Dr Pepper nourishment. His chapter on the Japanese baseball culture and the damage done from the amount of throwing they do is harrowing. But I’ve made it this far, tired arm and all.
In just a couple of days, I’ll turn 44. There is only one current MLB player older than I am — tip of the hat to Big Sexy, Bartolo Colón. I want to finish this year strong, still able to play long toss, still able to throw a relatively-accurate 60 mph fastball. I want to be like Bartolo and Satchel Paige and Stan (Day #206).
Enter Merry, the miracle worker.
Merry introduced herself after I told stories at 1 Million Cups, some 118 catch-playing days and several thousand throws ago, when she offered to massage my arm should I want it.
“We can play catch, too,” she said with a smile.
I have never had a massage, but I knew immediately this was an offer I didn’t want to miss.
Merry works at Zenith Climbing Center which is just a couple blocks away from home, the perfect distance to drive on a Monday morning after being away all weekend.
“When I was waiting to receive my massage license, I needed something to do to keep my hands strong, so I started climbing. When Zenith started looking for someone to give sports massages, I was ready and it has really been a great fit.”
Before the massage, however, was playing catch. Merry had expressed some anxiety about this when we met. “Underhand still counts as catch, right?”
Already hot outside, we walked to the grass field at the end of the parking lot and found shade. We started with close tosses underhand.
She laughed with her first catch. “I can do this!”
Two catches later. “You can scoot back.”
A few catches later. “Keep going.”
Soon we were just playing catch and talking about summer road trips and doing construction on vacation in Canada and I got my first introduction into neurokinetic therapy (NKT).
Neurokinetic therapy operates on the idea that when the body is injured, certain muscles shut down and force other muscles to overwork, which results in pain or tightness. Merry tests the strengths and weaknesses of paired muscles and then retrains the body through massage and follow-up exercises.
Every single day, the hardest part of playing catch is stopping. After quick introductions and a few questions, stories start and it just feels natural to toss a ball and make a new friend.
“Most people don’t think of themselves as someone who needs a massage. I’m not a person who identifies as someone who plays catch. But I had to try it and am so glad I did!”
Once I was comfortably positioned on the massage table, Merry started testing various muscles in my shoulder and arm. Of course, I was a little nervous, but got a great laugh when she made a funny face after discovering a particular weakness. She told me her journey from acting to stage and set design to movie design to sports massage therapy.
“I really like helping people who are pushing themselves, who are seeing just how far they can go. I’m hoping some of that grit is contagious.”
I had never thought of Catch 365 of being a particularly gritty effort. Tip of the hat to Merry for an ego boost, too. I wish I could hire Merry for weekly massages. After 45 minutes, my arm felt fantastic. I honestly wanted to grab the gloves and go throw again.
In November, Merry will be testing for NKT level 2 in San Francisco.
“Massage therapy has taught me to trust the process. That simple mantra has proven to be true time and time again, not only as a therapist, but as a human, too. Whether it’s our healing process or our learning process, it will work out. We’ll be okay in the end.”
I’m already planning to visit her again before year’s end.