On January 4, 2018, I watched Daniel anchor the early morning news while my daughters finished getting ready for school. For no logical reason whatsoever, I decided to send the anchor with the perfect smile a message.
“Crazy question. You up for a game of catch in the not-too-distant future?” I asked.
Daniel replied almost immediately, “Sure! When were you thinking?”
“I’ve got someone lined up for today, but need someone for tomorrow…and pretty much every other day of 2018.”
“Haha, great answer! How would you feel about me turning it into a story for the news? Kind of a fun New Year’s resolution / goal.”
On January 5, with the help of Chris the Photographer, I was mic’d up, and Daniel and I played catch and shared stories in 20-degree weather on an all-gravel infield near downtown Springfield. The story he produced was fun and whimsical and helped connect me with several future catch partners.
A few months later, 133 days to be exact, Daniel and I connected for a second game of catch and interview, following up on the progress of the crazy-question New Year’s resolution. During that interview he asked, “How is playing catch changing you?”
Hold on to that question.
Martin Schleske is a violin craftsman in Germany. He wrote a phenomenal book about being a luthier, The Sound of Life’s Unspeakable Beauty. Schleske wrote, “We have lost the ability to create metaphors for life. The events within and around us long for interpretation. Everyday moments of epiphany are bestowed on everyone. Our role is simply to learn to pay attention.”
“How is playing catch changing you?” Daniel asked.
Playing catch helped me learn to pay attention.
Everything about our current culture teaches us how not to pay attention. According to psychologist Curt Thompson, “Our devices as mediated by their touch-screens are changing our brains and behavior in such a way that we are now distressed anytime we have to spend fifteen to thirty seconds without a stimulus from outside our own mind…Effort is required on our part to allow beauty to work its way into our souls, moving as it must to persuade us to open the gates of our left hemisphere’s bulwark of defenses.”
Playing catch happens in the present tense, when life occurs. A whole-body experience involving the coordination of hands, eyes, feet, brain and heart, playing catch slows down the relentlessly steady beat of life’s drums, tunes out the digital distractions, and focuses us on what is happening right now, each throw and catch a rhythm of connecting, of establishing and strengthening a relationship, of enjoying this moment with someone else. Because of the mental effort required to play catch and not get hurt, the brain’s defense system is taxed, and we become open and willing to share our stories.
Playing catch every single day for an entire year was the effort required to teach me to pay attention, to focus my brain on the beautiful stories of the people right in front of me.
Our digitally-driven culture has shaped our brains. The average human adult has an attention span of 8 seconds. But the vast majority of the population are not bull riders.
Goldfish have an attention span of 9 seconds.
We are living in a culture where our attention is a deeply valued commodity. Americans check their phones, on average, 344 times each day. About once every 4 minutes. We give far more attention to that device than we do to any other relationship.
I believe that playing catch can help teach all of us how to better pay attention, to play attention.
When we play catch, we are focused on our catch partner and they are focused on us. Digital devices become dangerous distractions and are best left in the dugout or the vehicle.
Once muscles are stretched out and a conversational rhythm has been established, playing catch does exactly what play it supposed to do: encourages curiosity and creativity and strengthens trust in relationships.
Playing catch on a regular basis just may be what we need to learn to pay attention to the present wonder and beauty in this world.
So, go grab your glove, call a friend, and play attention.
* * * * *
On Day #167 of Catch 365, on his 13th birthday, I played catch with Beau and watched him hit a home run.
Today, Beau and the team from Portageville, Missouri play for the Class 2 state title.
Good luck, Bulldogs!
 Schleske, Martin. The Sound of Life’s Unspeakable Beauty. Translated by Janet Gesme. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 2020. Quote from the author’s preface, page xiii, in which he quotes painter Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s words written explaining a painting.
 Thompson, Curt. The Soul of Desire. InterVarsity Press, IL. 2021. Pg. 146-147.