As American as the Fourth of July and mom’s apple pie is the action of playing catch.
I recently bought a new glove. My old mitt is 35 years old at least, and when I took my son to purchase baseball pants for the upcoming season, for the first time ever, I stopped and tried on new gloves. I never felt the need before. My old trusty Rawlings Dale Murphy model fit my hand like a second skin. Every worn spot from the finger hole to the pocket, felt and smelt like home. The padding had worn out long ago, but my heat pen-branded initials still show in the sunlight. I love that glove like no other piece of equipment or clothing I’ve ever owned.
I played baseball with it, hot box, P.E. softball, rec league softball, stickball, and a host of made-up ball games that I played with friends in grade school, high school, and college. It has been a mitt, a base, a home plate, and even on occasion a weapon – you know what I mean (throw it at a friend or enemy). I’ve never lived without that glove. I think I even took it to Europe with me when I traveled with my brother in 2002.
So why the switch?
Well, like everything, I was mesmerized by the new object. I put on this new black and grey glove and it fit; perfectly, just like my old friend. And when we came home and I looked closely at my old glove and new glove side by side, I realized it was the same model. Same webbing same pocket, same tie spots, but the finger hole was gone and there was a Velcro strap to tighten it; but it was my old new glove.
As soon as I brought it home I began breaking it in. It currently sits in my garage with rubber bands tightening around a baseball to make it bend correctly. I have a cross-handed thumb to pinky break in my old glove, and I’m trying to recreate it. I definitely break in my gloves for the infield and not the outfield. My brother, who played shortstop most of his life, broke in his glove like an outfielder and scooped up so much dirt when he played that when he went to scoop up a grounder, a spray of dirt would arc over him as he made the exchange.
Man, we played baseball. We played all the time. We invented games off of the driveway, garage door, and the garage roof. My mom and dad would both play catch with us, and my mom even taught me how to throw a curve ball.
Baseball was one of the few common discussions I could have with my father-in-law that wouldn’t result in a political nor ideological argument. We watched a lot of baseball together before he passed away. I miss those moments of peaceful unity and our beautiful common ground of baseball.
My wife and I played catch at our old house once in a while, and I just realized how much fun that was. Just the two of us, tossing a ball, being in the moment, not worrying about anything but catch and throw. My dad now plays with my son the way he played with me and my brother—although between my dad and son there is much less instruction and more having fun. One of the perks of being a grandpa, he tells me.
I’ve played fetch and catch with both of my children, and I totally prefer catch. My back eventually hurts playing catch with my children because I try too hard to aim at my children’s gloves so we don’t wind up playing fetch. We’ve played more catch lately, because they are getting better.
Last Easter, we played hot box with my children and nieces in the front of my parent’s house. We laughed and played for a few hours; just throwing and catching and running, there on the front lawn, child-like in the warm spring air.
My niece and daughter play on the same softball team now and it affords at least an hour a week of alone time with my brother, which has become one of the highlights of my week. At their first practice, we played catch for an hour, tossing the ball back and forth and talking. We spoke on every conceivable topic, catch and throw, catch and throw, and it didn’t occur to me at the time but it did later that evening, that it was a wonderful time of being present with my brother, something that we had not had in very long time. We usually have to chase our kids around, or make plates at a family dinner, or clean dishes, but that hour was just us tossing a ball and being with each other and it felt like a real blessing.
In grade school, I remember borrowing my dad’s childhood glove and taking it to school to use as my own. He wrote THINK in green ink on the thumb. We mounted it and presented it to him as a birthday present years ago and it sits on the sports shelf in their basement.
So why the new glove? I don’t really know. It was probably an impulse purchase. I’m trying to make it feel like my old glove and it just won’t get there yet. I have a significant amount of catch to play before it becomes my own. I guess it is also a gamble on my future too. I hope to continue playing catch with my kids for as long as they’ll let me and then hopefully another generation of Bergmans will ask the old man watching baseball to play catch someday as well. If that time comes, what was once new will be a broken-in, old leather-smelling, scratched-up object of beauty with a host of new memories woven into the fabric of time. The old Dale Murphy model will just have to survive as an object of childhood wonder and fascination harkening back to a time of innocence and fun.
Maybe when you get a chance and you like baseball just a little bit, go have a catch. It will bring you and your loved ones together and force you to forget every problem except catching the ball and throwing it back.