The year of playing catch wasn’t a year of collecting catch partners like baseball cards.
I got Jim “The Rookie” Morris and Mary Moore and Bill Virdon!
It was a year of making new friends through a play-filled sharing of stories.
Friends are there through all of life’s curveballs, from totaled vehicles to twisted ankles to walk-off wins.
One of the things I love about playing in The Grip ‘N’ Rip Baseball League is making new friends who love this horribly beautiful game as much as I do, who obsess for seven days over that one at bat or that one pitch or that one call, who start dreaming about next season the day after the championship game.
Maybe that’s why I was so nervous about Sunday’s game. The Ozark Mountain Ducks were playing the Branson Showmen. Mark and I practiced with Grady and Colin all summer in preparation for tryouts. Just like Mark and I shared a number for different teams last year, this season Grady and I are number twins. Mark and I wore the royal blue of the Ducks; I’m still number 10, he’s number 6. Grady and Colin sported the bold purple of the Showmen. I wanted all of us to do well. And I wanted to prove to myself and my teammates that I belong on the team even if it’s been a few games since I’ve rounded first. And I really, really wanted the Ducks to win.
“Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes, it rains,” said baseball philosopher Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ LaLoosh in Bull Durham.
It rained. The Ducks lost.
After the game, I commiserated with Mark and congratulated Colin and had dinner with Grady’s family. Of course, Grady and I talked baseball and laughed about the bad calls, each of which favored one of our teams. (There is no way Skyler left second early.) We talked about my two-pitch at bat that resulted in a grounder to second. We talked about his two-pitch at bat that resulted in a grounder to third. At least we both hit it solid and neither one of us broke our bats. We talked about the new friends we were making on our teams and the highs and lows of playing the game.
We also talked about one of those other shared experiences of life: car wrecks. The Bryan Family Millennium Falcon was totaled in a wreck with an uninsured driver last week. She was a good ship, held together mostly by love and dirt from all over the Midwest.
Throughout the writing of and, especially, since the release of the book, I have loved reconnecting with my catch-playing friends. Last weekend, I was at Ballparks of America in Branson and watched Kyler (day # 272) and Keilynn (day #307) play ball while I signed books. Each time they stepped up to the plate, I walked away from the table and stood on the nearby stairs to get a good view of their at bats. They both reached first base more times in their one game than I have all season in the GRBL.
Several of my catch-playing friends also play ball in the GRBL. I counted at least 15 GRBL catch partners on the official Catch 365 roster. Initially, I met Austin Kendrick because of a game of catch; I don’t even remember who introduced us. He’s now my coach. Of course, we text throughout the week about baseball as I still have so much to learn, but we also text about life.
Side note. What kind of friend throws a 3-1 letter-high curveball AND gets the called strike? I wanna see three straight fastballs from you in my next at bat, Ice Man.
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Call me “old” and “sentimental” and “a softy.”
If you call me names like that to my face, I’ll probably laugh and joke with you while I try and figure out if you’re being serious or sarcastic and how best to reply, then process it on my own when Jamie and Kaylea and Sophie are at school. Bella the Squirrel Hunter will hear all about it on one of our walks. The conclusion, most likely, will be that we’re good friends just having fun and that no animosity was intended whatsoever. I’ll finally think of the words that would have completed the joke and have a good laugh by myself. By this time, Bella will be too distracted by squirrels to care about the conversation.
Honestly, I probably care too much.
As I watch the daily vitriol and venom spew across social media circles and news stations and grocery store aisles, I am struck with one overwhelming observation: We no longer know how to be friends.
Friendship requires trust and integrity, empathy and compassion, communication and common ground. Instead of appreciating the common ground of the mystery and wonder and joy of being human, we have created an abundance of polarizing litmus tests one must pass before establishing any kind of relationship.
I have strong opinions about events happening in our nation and around the world. I hold these strong opinions close and very rarely share them. Just because I have strong opinions doesn’t mean I’m right. Just because I have strong opinions doesn’t mean we can’t still be friends.
It is only because of my friends that I was able to play catch every single day.
It is only because of my new friends in the publishing world that the book about that wonderful adventure is a reality.
It is only because of my friends that I’m back on the field again competing for the best benchwarmer award.
This world needs a reminder in the true power of friendship.
Like Remember the Titans or 42 or Lord of the Rings.
Pick up a copy of A Year of Playing Catch and meet some of my friends. Come cheer on all the GRBL players this Friday night and meet some more of my friends. Maybe I’ll make friends with first base this week. Or maybe that gap-shot double dream will finally come true. Who knows? It’s 2020 and stranger things have happened.
Then, wherever your feet may take you, go and have the audacious courage to make new friends.
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Apologies to Isaiah for cropping him out of the original picture. Tres tens!