Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Respecting the tools of ignorance

Some of my best memories can be traced back to my Little League days.

I'd almost run to the field every time we had a game. Those fateful nights when we got to play under the lights were awesome.

Plus, I got to goof off with my friends in the dugout when it was our team's turn to hit.

And, after the game, we'd all run down to the concession stand with our free hot dog vouchers.

I loved every single minute of it.

Well, almost.

Most of the Little League managers let us play wherever we wanted. I mostly roamed the outfield, but I played a decent amount of second base as well. I even got to pitch a handful of times.

However, if I had to pick a single low point of my "career", it would probably be that one time I had to don the catching gear.

Most of the teams I played on had at least one kid who really wanted to catch, for some reason.

That kid must've not shown up on that fateful day, because I got stuck with the catching duties during one of my earlier days of Little League. (It was the year I played the Orioles, for what it's worth.)

The mask was a challenge in itself. I could barely stand up straight because the one we had was quite heavy. We didn't have those cool hockey-style masks like the one Mr. Alomar wore.

I learned a lot during that one inning.

Mainly, I learned that I never wanted to catch again.

But, perhaps more importantly, I gained a whole lot of respect for the people that devote their lives to putting on that catcher's gear each day.

It's not an easy job.

You want proof?

Let's just take a look at a few of my favorite catcher cards.

Even though I've been watching baseball for as long as I can remember, I'm still fascinated by the amount of errant pitches catchers are forced to block.

If you watch closely, they're successful most of the time. A good catcher usually saves at least two or three potential wild pitches during the course of a game.

Some, like the one Brad Ausmus is about to save, just make you shake your head in amazement. "How do they do that?"

One of the first pitches I received during my lone inning as a catcher got by me.

Thankfully, no one was on base at the time.

Brad Ausmus I was not.

Putting on the "tools of ignorance" was hard enough.

Buckling all those straps on the shin guards seemed like rocket science at the time, given that I'd never done it before.

Once I got into my crouch, I prayed no one would hit a slow roller in front of the plate. I didn't want to have to whip the helmet off and chase after it. I didn't want to be Benito Santiago.

Most of all, I was really hoping that there wouldn't be a foul pop. Taking the mask off, whipping it away, and keeping your eye on the ball at the same time is a daunting task, even for a lot of big-league catchers.

Luckily, no one did.

I got off easy.

This was what I feared the most.

Some crazy maniac running me down at the plate.

From what I remember, we weren't supposed to crash into the catcher in Little League. That's what our coaches said, anyways.

I saw it happen a few times, though. A couple of my friends tried to play it off like they didn't mean to do it.

But they did.

After all, kids are bound to crash into each other at some point during a Little League game.

Nothing's going to stop them.

Looking back, that inning I caught was a fairly easy one. I can't recall if it was a 1-2-3 frame, but I never had to do anything special.

The pitcher threw it, and I caught it.

There's only one reason I'd want to go back and do that inning over again.

I would've really loved to have had a meeting on the mound. Those of you who have seen Freaks and Geeks should know why.

It's just...cool.

I don't know why, it just is.

Especially when you're in Little League.

Catching is likely the most important position in the game of baseball as a whole.

Heck, it's probably the most important position in all of sports.

I'm not sure where or when I first acquired this card of Carlton Fisk "In Action". (I'm guessing that it already had the creases when I bought it.)

All I know is that it's been one of the centerpieces of my collection since day one.

I've acquired thousands and thousands of new cards since this Fisk card found its way into my collection a long, long time ago.

However, one thing has always stayed the same.

On average, catchers seem to have the best cards.

This might be the greatest of them all.

Not only does it picture Roy Campanella and Billy Martin, but it features one of the greatest action shots in the history of baseball.

It always takes me a while to look through the catchers' section of my binders, mainly because I find myself having stop and look at every other card in there.

Catchers make up a huge part of the overall greatness of this hobby. That's the way it should be, though.

With a job as tough as theirs, catchers definitely deserve the recognition.

No question about it.


buckstorecards said...

One of my binders is dedicated exclusively to hockey goalie masks. The only rules are:

1. Good picture of one side of the mask
2. No one colour masks

The only exception I made is to put a 1997 Charlie O'Brien #517 that saluted his debut and introduction of the hockey style mask. It feels like he's an intruder in there for some reason, but it feels just right for me.

But, the moving of said card has made me look a little harder at catcher cards from since the mask's debut, hoping to see some creativity.

Unknown said...

I was that one kid on my team that REALLY wanted to catch. My reason? I just wanted to be the guy with the ball.

Marcus said...

I was also on the Orioles when I first caught in a game. My dad was the coach, and the kid who was the catcher was sick. I totally hated it. I remember crying afterwards, because I wanted to be shortstop (I had even chosen to wear number 8, like Cal Ripken) and catching was so hot and miserable.

After a few games, I found out that I loved it and was actually pretty good. I was one of the few guys that could make the throw down to second on the fly. Played it for the next six years, until high school, when the pitchers learned to throw curveballs, which I could catch, but not hit to save my life.

Marcus said...

Oh yeah, and that's one of my favorite Haverchuck scenes from Freaks and Geeks.

night owl said...

My tribute post to catchers:


The couple times I played catcher (both times as a desperate fill-in), I did not like it.