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A nostalgic throwback

Many agree that a game of catch conjures memories

Many agree that a game of catch conjures memories

May 02, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

A father tosses the ball softly, overhand, to his 7-year-old son near the swings at Fairgrounds Park.

The boy holds his glove straight out in front of him, open side up, but the ball lands elsewhere.

A few more tosses and dad fists his glove, catches the return throw and returns the ball to the boy with a long toss - this one is caught.

"Good," says Phil Merrill, 35, of Hagerstown. Just then a younger son wanders over, perhaps feeling left out, and Merrill gives him the ball while Michael, 7, switches his attention to the swings.

It's a game of catch, a simple toss of the ball back and forth that triggers a powerful nostalgia - so strong that the scene of father and son playing catch at the end of "Field of Dreams" can bring some people to tears. The grown son in the movie is reunited with a young, ethereal version of his father, briefly, as they forget an old rift with leather gloves and a leather-covered ball of string.

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For many, catch is a chance for sons and daughters to have some quality time with dad.

For Phil Merrill, that time with dad was "priceless."

He is the oldest of eight children, so sometimes catch with dad was also catch with his siblings, but other times it was just he and his dad playing catch and talking baseball.

"My dad's not much of a talker. Usually we talked about what he wanted to talk about. My dad was not an affectionate person," Merrill says, so a game of catch was something to treasure.

Merrill says he started playing catch with Michael last summer. They play catch about once a week and he plays catch with his daughter, Maddie, 9, and son, Steven, 5, too. They also do other things, says the father of five. (The 1- and 3-year-olds aren't ready for catch with gloves yet, though he tosses the ball with Ryan, 3.)

Alan Brodell of Williamsport says playing catch with dad "was one of the best times."

They played weekly, until catch became golf.

"I wasn't the best ballplayer," Brodell says. But, it was time with dad, just the two of them. That is, unless his younger brother joined in.

Brodell says he plays catch with his son, often using a football.

"It's fun," says Zach, 6, who also helps dad with Lions Club and church activities.

Keith Yeager, 40, of Fannettsburg, Pa., liked playing catch with his dad a lot.

"I had a good bit of time with dad," Yeager says.

Yeager used to play catch with his sons.

It's the main thing they liked to do when they were younger. Now that his sons are 14 and 19, they don't play catch as often, Yeager says.

For some Hagerstown-area residents who didn't play catch with dad, there were other activities.

Kia McClary's father, Ronald McClary, preferred playing video games and watching wrestling to playing catch. "I didn't miss out. I did other things with him," says McClary, 23, of Hagerstown.

Beth Howerton, 32, of Hagerstown, says it would have been nice to play catch with her dad. Instead, as a youth, she and her younger sisters played catch with a football, a sport she watched on TV with their dad.

"I'd just sit beside my dad and be quiet. He would explain football to you," she recalled.

Now Howerton plays catch with her 8-year-old daughter, Alanis, using a set of Velcro mitts and a Velcro ball.

"We saw the set at the store and thought it would be fun," Howerton says.

While they're tossing the ball, they talk about what's going on at school and their plans for the summer.

Herb Cassidy, 41, of Hagerstown, says he and his dad didn't talk while playing catch.

"Honestly, it was a good time with my father. Family time, I guess," Cassidy says.

If you go ...



WHAT: Pitch, Hit and Run

WHEN: Sunday, May 4. Registration at noon. Begins at 1 p.m.

WHERE: American Little League, Mill Street, Hagerstown

COST: Free. Can register in advance by calling Abigail Elliott at 301-739-8577, ext. 183, or register day of the event.

MORE: For boys and girls ages 7 to 14 with age divisions of 7 to 8, 9 to 10, 11 to 12 and 13 to 14. Youths will pitch in a bullpen, bat on the field and run on the bases. The overall winner for each age group will advance to the sectionals.

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