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A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Catcher’s Mitt

By Peter DeWitt — November 24, 2011 5 min read
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Later on, I found my niche. It wasn’t baseball; it was school, and running and art and music. Dad and Mom had taught me that life is special. It doesn’t always work out the way you want--sometimes it works out better.

A few years ago I wrote a story entitled Catcher’s Mitt for Grief Digest. Unfortunately there are not enough books on the subject of grief for children and publishers like the Centering Corporation, which publishes Grief Digest, are one of the few organizations that focus on the topic of grief. There are so many children affected by this subject that we are fortunate that organizations like the Centering Corporation exist.

When going through old stories, I came upon Catcher’s Mitt. I even went down to my basement and found the glove that inspired the story. If we’re fortunate, we all have times in our lives when we can look back on our childhood and smile. As a small boy, playing catch with my dad is one of those times of great importance.

Catcher’s Mitt

I was on the way to Hudson Falls one cold winter day years ago, with Mom and Dad, to buy a baseball mitt at Moran’s Sporting Goods. Not just any mitt though--a left-handed catcher’s mitt. They were hard to find. Back then, most catchers who were southpaws had to catch with a fielder’s mitt. It wasn’t the same; it was like catching a softball barehanded. Even a left-handed catcher’s mitt wasn’t that unique. Except for this one that my dad gave me for Christmas the year before he died. That alone made it special.

Dad and I had promised to play catch outside when the snow melted in upstate New York. The way we used to play in our big front yard on Pinewood Road, throwing high above the telephone wire that led from the road to our antenna that sat on top of our modest, green house.

My dad was good at pop flies that flew way up in the air as if they would never come back down. He had strong arms, big hands, and he would toss them up and over. I’d smile widely when I ran to catch the baseball on those warm summer days, except for the balls my brother Jody would catch. He was three years older, much faster and looking to catch my dad’s attention. Nothing beats playing catch with your dad and brother on a warm summer day, where you run and catch and laugh a lot.

I asked for the catcher’s mitt on my Christmas list. The list was long, but the mitt was number one. I wanted to be the one the pitcher counted on. I could throw from home plate to second base without much effort, but I needed the proper glove to catch the strikes the pitcher threw to me.

Then Dad got sick, and for awhile he was forced to leave all of us and go to a hospital far, far away in Burlington, Vermont. Mom would leave in her fire-engine-red Subaru to go see him, but most every night she came back. My older sister, Trish, baby sat us--not that we were babies. I was eleven, Jody was fourteen.

A few months later, Dad came back just like he had said he would, but strong arms had turned weak. Still, we all worked for his attention. Sitting in the stiff wooden chair that supported his back, he would watch sports in the living room. Watching sports was not my favorite thing to do, but you’ll do anything to have a little time with your dad.

Christmas was coming, a time to be together and a time when your dreams come true. We got pounded with snow outside of our northeast home. I dreamed of baseball--not with a team, but with my dad, and maybe my brother, Jody, too.

That Christmas morning, five siblings devoured gifts piled high. Some big, some small, wrapping paper strewn all over, but the catcher’s mitt wasn’t among those. Mom brought it out, unwrapped. No wrapping paper would have been colorful enough for this handmade glove. No need for packaging; leather was the wrapping for this present. The glove was all leather, handmade, unique. No other baseball glove looked like this. It was stuffed and padded around the edge, with an invisible bulls-eye in the center and a tough exterior. The leather was stiff, I would have to work it in.

Dad was sitting in the wooden, kitchen chair in the corner of the living room with a panoramic view of all the kids. He wore his new brown tweed winter hat that covered his ears to keep him warm on cold, northeast-winter days. It resembled a baseball hat, his favorite sport. Excited about my gift, I jumped up to hug Dad and wrapped my arms around him, but not too tight. He was fragile, and I didn’t want him to break.

Christmas night I spent hours in the bedroom that I shared with my two brothers, lying awake in the top bunk. I couldn’t sleep, so I held my glove close to smell the leather. Finally, I fell soundly asleep with the glove on my right hand.

For months after Christmas, snow fell, blanketing the ground, so I waited eagerly for my time to use my left-handed catcher’s mitt--with my dad. Finally, March came and everything was growing, but not my father. He went away, never to come back. But I knew he’d always be there watching as my brother Jody and I play catch in our front yard.

I decided to play baseball even though Dad wouldn’t be there. I didn’t have him anymore, but I had his gift, the left-handed catcher’s mitt. In the fourth year of little league, there was more competition. But I was only interested in one spot on the diamond, behind home plate. To give the signal, to control the speed, to direct the pitcher’s pitch: the heat, a curve, knuckleball, a slider maybe, depending on the batter.

Another Saturday during spring, another game, minus one fan in the crowd. I wasn’t a catcher anymore. Coach Joust had favorites, and I wasn’t one of them.
Left field was my position, but not the one that I wanted. There were two outs. The opponents were up by one run and it was the last inning. The pop fly came to me, just like Dad’s had over the telephone wire. My hands were up, reaching for the ball. All eyes were on me; even the batter’s eyes watched the ball before he ran to first base. It was coming down, toward my mitt. The ball fit perfectly in my glove. Too bad it was the wrong glove. Three outs, our time for bats, last ups, last inning.

We could win. It was my turn to bat, but I was a catcher, not much of a hitter and the coach knew it. It was my time to learn about life. All of it was enough for me. It was time to move on to other things.

Later on, I found my niche. It wasn’t baseball; it was school, and running and art and music. Dad and Mom had taught me that life is special. It doesn’t always work out the way you want--sometimes it works out better.

I may not have played baseball since that day I lost the joust. But I still have my left-handed catcher’s mitt. Not because I love baseball, but because, it’s the glove my dad gave me for Christmas the year before he passed away.

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