Newmann: Comfort in a catch
We toss the ball almost every day, my friend George and I.
The ball is the real deal, an official American League baseball with the commissioner’s signature slightly faded from the ball’s many days of use.
The sound of the sphere hitting the pocket of the glove (“thwack”) is timeless. It’s the sound of countless games, both of catch and on the field, over countless hours.
The fingers of the right hand (if you’re a righty) feel the shape of the ball in the glove and, as the elbow and arm start to move back, the fingers start to rotate the ball slightly to get the most efficient grip on the seams. The arm keeps moving back, elbow bending and the wrist starting to cock. And then comes the forward motion, elbow and arm extending, wrist flicking, the ball leaving the grip of the fingers … the toss.
There is a concentration on the mechanics. And on the target. But, for the most part, the concentration is unconscious. It’s honed by the countless hours of throwing a ball. Only when you misfire do you actively think about a correction — and making that correction on the next throw.
We banter as we toss. No subject is off-limits. But even the most serious topics never seem to be extremely stressful. There’s something about the continual movement, the rhythm, the sound of the “thwack,” that eases the mind and induces relaxation, civility, congeniality.
Baseball is a logical game. It is a game played on a diamond, any diamond in any country, and it has numbers which are irrefutable. Statistics rule. No matter where you play, the rules — and the stats — are the same. There are three outs. A batting average is the batting average; an ERA is the ERA. Similarly, every toss is either on the mark … or not. You cannot rationalize away an inefficient throw. But the next throw gives you a chance to make the correction.
We toss short and we toss long. The warmup is in the short throws. Get the arm loose, find a rhythm and an accuracy, let the fingers and the hand start to feel the ball. Then we gradually move into the longer throws. Accuracy becomes more acute. Is everything working in sync? Even the slightest disruption in mechanics causes the ball to go on a different trajectory … and it’s off on an unintended journey (even a few inches from the target) the minute it leaves your hand. Figure out the errors and make the corrections. Repeat the efficiencies and expand on them. Common sense.
We continue to throw.
Baseball is a science of sorts. Ironically, Ted Williams, one of the greatest hitters in the game, wrote a book called “The Science of Hitting.” The book is still as relevant today as it was when it was written in 1970 (and revised in 1986) because hitting is still … hitting. Williams breaks hitting down in such depth that it becomes science.
Even an activity as intuitive as throwing is, in many ways, a science. The grip on the ball, where the fingers are placed on the seams, the action of the wrist — all of these can give the ball different spins which in turn can affect velocity and accuracy. Simple physics, coupled (usually) with solid mechanics.
George and I both moved long ago from a competitive realm, where we each had aspirations of making it to The Show, to the scaled-down — and current —version of a couple of guys just tossing a baseball. But the thoughts, and the science, of how to improve efficiency never end.
We throw for half an hour almost daily. The time of day varies a bit with changes in our respective schedules. But we seldom miss a day. We both just enjoy throwing a baseball — and thrive on the congeniality, the civility, the logic, the common sense, and the science that comes along with it.
In a time when some, or many, of the above attributes, may be invisible in other realms of life, there’s a certain irony that they can still be found with a ball and a glove.
Tom Newmann is a ski instructor at Beaver Creek and at Coronet Peak in Queenstown, New Zealand, who has been going winter-to-winter since 1986. He was also a journalist in Missoula, Montana, at the Missoulian for quite a few years. Email him at email@example.com.