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In 2018, I played catch. Every single day. For an entire year.
At the age of 44, an age most ballplayers have retired, I traveled with a backpack full of gloves through 10 states and connected with more than 500 catch partners, including Jim “The Rookie” Morris, 1960 World Series champion Bill Virdon, Mary Moore of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, and Dad at the Field of Dreams.
My daughters inspired the adventure, who took me up on a whimsical invitation to play catch on New Year’s Day 2018. On that day of single-degree temperatures, I could not have imagined that 2018 would be one of the best years of my life.
Throwing a ball every day and making new friends taught me several things about the wonder and joy of life on this third curveball from the sun.
#1 Curiosity is contagious.
Playing catch encouraged my sense of curiosity. I felt like Calvin and Hobbes, going out on an adventure with a friend, making observations, and learning about all of life. With each throw of the ball, I asked questions of my catch partners, from their favorite team to their hopes and dreams. As I heard their stories, I found connections between my life experiences and theirs. Playing catch created a sacred space for us to learn from one another. Over the course of the year, I developed a healthy sense of curiosity, wondering what stories I’d hear and what wisdom would be imparted from that day’s catch partner. Developing a curious mind that seeks to learn from others in whatever situation we find ourselves in is imperative in our ever-changing culture.
#2 Adaptability is a must.
Life throws curveballs. Sometimes it was bad weather, from below-zero wind chills to triple-digit heat. Sometimes a catch partner had to cancel, like when the chief of police had to reschedule due to multiple murders overnight. And on one occasion, the laces on my beloved George Brett baseball glove broke. Whether it was bad weather, a broken glove, or a canceled partner, playing catch every day taught me to be adaptable, flexible, and creative. When Life threw a curveball, I kept swinging…or throwing. The ability to adapt to overcome whatever obstacles are in the way of your goals is an essential life skill.
#3 Never give up.
Amelia Earhart said, “The most difficult thing is the decision to act; the rest is merely tenacity.” Through it all, over and over and over again, I lived one of the most important things I’ve ever learned — never give up. For the first couple of months, I was sore. Life as a writer uses many different muscles than life as a ballplayer: arm, elbow, shoulder, lower back. Icy Hot and ibuprofen were a daily regimen. Life is hard, full stop. It takes tenacity and dogged perseverance to do anything worth doing. Just because something is hard, just because muscles are sore, doesn’t mean it’s time to give up. Once I decided to attempt the year-long adventure, the only thing stopping me would be surgery. I’m grateful I pressed on through the early pain to discover the joy.
#4 Community is necessary.
It is impossible to play catch alone. My resolution required the daily help of someone else. And playing catch was the best experiment in learning about the necessity of community. I got to know others and myself better through shared experiences and practiced my empathy, cooperation, and communication skills. Despite ever-faster internet connections and remarkable advances in technology, our world is growing increasingly fragmented and disconnected. Across all demographics, loneliness is on the rise across the United States. People are making appointments to go to the doctor just for the opportunity to receive physical touch. From 21-month old Benton to Neighbor Bob the Nonagenarian and friends at all levels of baseball experience, playing catch really did bring people together.
#5 Hope is a gift.
In Kung Fu Panda, Master Oogway said it perfectly, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it’s called the present.” Every day, without fail — every single day — playing catch left me with a renewed sense of hope and deep feelings of optimism and wonder. Playing catch gave me the gift of living fully in the present.
After the year was over, I started researching playing. And everything I thought I learned through a year of playing catch is simply the things people learn whenever they play.
Play naturally fosters a sense of curiosity.
Play teaches us to think and act creatively. It strengthens the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that manages emotions and makes decisions. Play encourages creativity and helps with solving problems.
Play gives us a safe space to fail, to figure out how to overcome obstacles and succeed in whatever arenas we may be in. Play teaches us that the most important talent is hard work.
Play strengthens relationships and connects us to other people. Play creates space for us to learn about and care for one another truly. Play teaches us the power of synergy that we can do greater things than on our own.
Play reduces stress-related hormones and releases endorphins to make us feel better about ourselves and the world we live in, giving us optimism and hope.
To be fully and beautifully human, we must create time to play. We have grown far too serious, which is dangerous to our health and our future. Borrowing from C.S. Lewis, we have settled for mud pies when we’ve been invited to a holiday at the beach.
G. K. Chesterton said, “The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground.”
Wanna play catch?