Catchers – The Unsung (super) Heros

boulanger catching

No baseball pitcher would be worth a darn without a catcher who could handle the hot fastball. ~Casey Stengel

I’m intrigued by baseball catchers. They are often the unsung heroes of a game,“stolidly going about their duties without attracting much attention.” [*Peter Morris, Catcher: The Evolution of an American Folk Hero]  And I’ve noticed that this catching stuff is really one tough job – not a job for just any hero, but a SUPER hero!

Crouching in an inherently unnatural and uncomfortable position for long stretches of time, relaying pitches and adjusting to whatever comes across the plate, framing and blocking pitches, popping up quickly, making lightning-speed, on-the-money throws – let’s face it, without these “super” powers behind the plate, even the best pitcher could come-off looking like a bad Robin for Batman.

And then, of course, there’s the little detail of equipment, the so-called “tools of ignorance.” A glove, mask, chest protector, and shin guards — arguably a disguise fit for a superhero (sans cape, of course). According to baseball-reference.com, “The term, tools of ignorance, was meant to be ironic, contrasting the intelligence needed by a catcher to handle the duties of the position, with the foolishness needed to play a position hazardous enough to require so much protective equipment.” Yep, sounds like a super hero to me.

In his book*, Peter Morris also reveals that “In baseball’s early days, catchers stood a safe distance in back of the batter. Then the introduction of the curveball in the 1870s led them to move up directly behind home plate, even though they still wore no gloves or protective equipment. Extraordinary courage became the catcher’s most notable requirement, but the new positioning also demanded that the catcher have lightning-fast reflexes, great hands, and a cannon for a throwing arm. With so great a range of needed skills, a special mystique came to surround the position, and it began to seem that a good catcher could single-handedly make the difference between winning and losing.”

So this is why I am in awe of catchers. I admire the confidence and guts it takes to silence an archenemy’s weapons, coupled with the humility all superheroes possess to quietly change back into being just another ordinary, everyday kind of guy (or gal) at the end of the battle.

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