After a lifetime of clear vision, it’s a shock to see life from behind bars. But don’t worry, I haven’t finally been jailed for crimes against the English language. I have instead made my debut as a catcher, writes Rob Jones.
Let’s be honest, it’s hard to see from behind that mask. And it’s damned hard to move with all that extra armour, and that helmet. It’s distracting, especially for a skinny guy like me. Not every catcher is necessarily a beast, but even at single-A level they tend to be solid. I am an exception.
Hopefully more wearing of the “tools of ignorance” will help get me used to them. Because even after giving it a try, the idea still appeals to me.
Let me back up slightly and explain the context. This all happened one Saturday a couple of weeks ago, in a friendly game between the Herts Raptors and the development side being nurtured by the excellent London Mets club. The team is currently called the Mountaineers, though it doesn’t play league games. Yet.
This was a chance for them to face an opponent in a real game setting, and for that opponent to be a genuine league team. For us, it was a chance to try some new things. For example, our centre fielder became a starting pitcher, the right fielder became a second baseman. And your correspondent — usually a jobbing infielder – became a catcher.
In the end it was for just one inning, as I am not the only player with designs on the job. But I’m glad I got in that one inning as it was eye-opening (and not just because that was the only way to see clearly!)
The armour does have a real impact on your movement. I had to tighten it all up to fit me, of course. But still the way it affects your speed and your flexibility surprised me. I felt like a racehorse confined in plaster casts, or perhaps as if I had been lightly dipped in concrete to perform my job.
Then there is the glove. I don’t doubt that there are excellent reasons for having a special glove. But it was another thing to get used to. Whenever I play first base I always do it with my own glove, a standard 12.5″ infielders glove. I just find that I am more used to it and more in tune with what it can do. So experiments with a first baseman’s glove are always short lived. With the catchers mitt, you have to persevere. I think I improved in the course of the inning I was there. But it will take more work.
The ball is in play…. always
There is also so much to think about. So much. When one ball got away from me and that mitt I failed to react for a second. And the base-runner took the chance to move up. Just as I would’ve done in his place. At any position you have to always remember that the ball is in play, but even more so as the catcher.
In theory, of course, I should be following the count, too. I’ve got much better at this sort of stuff over recent years (sometimes now, I even remember the score too!) But on one occasion I was caught out.
The umpire said the count was full, but Greg who was pitching had correctly counted it to 2-2. He fired one down as he thought he could waste one more ball, and was surprised when the guy then walked. I needed to have helped him out at that point. It is something else to remember.
There are two reasons I wanted to try catching. First, it’s the one thing I have never done in a game. Secondly, I feel that my sporting background as a football goalkeeper will help me get my technique right to block stray balls. It took years of baseball before I “unlearned” the habit of getting my knees down and getting everything behind a ball. You simply don’t have time for that on the infield. But as a catcher I feel it would help save on pass balls. I still felt that was true after my one inning of work.
I don’t know how much I was able to put it into effect as I wrestled all the strange, fish out of water feelings that I have described above. But I think the only balls to get by were that one which I just dropped, and one more which I tried to block correctly but which still caromed off my shoulder.
I remember the difference the catcher can make for the pitcher from one of my experiences on the mound a couple of years back. The multi-talented Andy Cornish — who I don’t think even catches regularly now — was making a guest appearance for the Eagles when I pitched in relief. He was so effective in saving all those balls I put wide and in the dirt and I was very grateful — as I’m sure was the team.
The final thing to say about catching is that it is flat-out exhausting! The observant among you will recall that I only did one inning. In my defence I will say that it was the final inning of the game, and we had been going for a couple of hours by then. But I will freely admit that this was far more tiring than any other inning of the day.
Carrying round the extra weight, and constantly crouching down and jumping up, make a wicked combination. If you see me return from the off-season with chunky thighs and an enormous grille across my face you know that I have given in to the temptations of the catcher.