Sunday, June 15, 2014

The catch

The greatest baseball player I ever saw was Willie Mays.  He had the skills to accomplish every possible feat in the game: he was fast on the bases, he had a very strong throw, he could hit for power and average and he could field- he was a golden glove.  I believe he holds the record for outfield putouts which upon reflection is an amazing notion.  He literally roamed the outfield from center-field catching balls that seemed un-catchable.

His most famous catch was recorded in a world series when Cleveland's Vic Wertz smashed a deep drive over his head in center-field.  With his back to everyone including the ball, Mays reached out for it towards the stands.  Most were amazed at the catch without realizing that his accompanying throw that he whipped in one motion was just as amazing.  Commentator Bob Costas explained in a tribute video that nobody believed the ball could have been caught!  Bob Feller on the other hand, disagreed.  Feller disclosed that the players knew Willie would catch the ball all along because Mays had a famous 'tell': tapping his glove with his fist signaled to everyone that he had tracked the ball and there was no way he would miss.[Sure enough if one watches the film, Mays indeed taps his glove before the catch]

I once witnessed Willie Mays evading a collision with Bobby Bonds (who played right-field) making the catch behind Bonds!  Mays had such energy and he exuded enthusiasm as he played.
In my youth, I played center-field from 13 years old through High School.  Mays was the paradigm. Once during a 13 year old Allstar game, I too made a catch that is seared in my memory not necessarily because the catch was a good one but rather because the announcer stopped the game to encourage enthusiasm and excitement.

With less than two outs with a man on third base, the play was at home.  I was playing straight away at medium depth.  I crouched into position on the balls of my feet ready for the pitch.  It was a fast ball down the middle of the plate that must have looked like a grapefruit to the hitter because he met it easily and hit it squarely.  It was a rifle shot that was quickly sinking behind second base.  I also took off like a shot digging closer and closer to the ball hoping I could cut it off before it bounced to the ground.  I lengthened each stride drilling my cleats harder and harder with each step trying desperately to increase my speed.  As I realized there was a slight chance at gloving the ball, I extendesd my glove just atop of my shoe strings of my right foot catching the ball and in one motion I fired a peg to the plate as I tumbled over myself.  The runner on third held up!  I was happy that I did my job.

All of sudden, the official league announcer spoke into the loud speaker, "Ladies and Gentlemen is this not a great ball game?!  Have we seen some great plays today?!  Let's give a great round of applause to that little center-fielder!"  I was stunned and embarrassed, looking down into the grass trying to ignore the attention directed at me.  It was the first time I was ever publicly acknowledged as a ball-player and didn't know what to do.  Eventually, I was able to say thanks to those individuals who came up to compliment me.

When the verse says "Serve Hashem with joy" the true meaning is to be passionate and enthusiastic in what ever one does just like Willie Mays played baseball because the passion and enthusiasm are contagious creating a much more exciting, better world.

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