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Parasiliti: True meaning of baseball should have only one catch

July 24, 2011
  • Jay Stouffer gets a hug from his son, Jay Jr., who surprised him by sneaking home to catch his father's ceremonial first pitch to begin the Maryland State 11-12 Tournament in Maugansville..
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

Over time, baseball has become complicated.

Every play, every pitch, every injury and every instance in today’s professional and college games are analyzed to death. Everything is weighed for an impact on the entire season.

Some of that mentality spills over into events like this week’s Maryland 11-12 State Tournament in Maugansville. Seven teams are playing for the highest of stakes in youth baseball — a possible trip to the Little League World Series.

In the whirlwind of activity, it has become easy to forget baseball in its purest form.

It all starts with the simple act of a father playing catch with his son.

Maugansville Little League officials reinforced the game’s very essence on Saturday during tournament’s opening ceremonies. It was a time to celebrate the accomplishments of the teams that reached the tournament while honoring the heritage of the 37-year-old league.

The crowning moment came when Jay Stouffer, the league’s founding father and namesake of Maugansville’s field, was given the honor of tossing the ceremonial first pitch.

While Stouffer stepped to the mound, Maugansville Little League president Kelly Colbert ran a diversionary tactic. He paid homage to Stouffer’s work and devotion to the league he started by presenting him with a Maugansville jersey with 74 stitched on the back, signifying the year of the league’s inception.

Meanwhile, a young man in catcher’s equipment slyly positioned behind home plate to field Stouffer’s pitch. Stouffer broke off a 30-footer that bounced in front of the plate, forcing the catcher to scoot over to make the play.

The catcher brought the ball back to the mound while taking off his mask.

“Nice pitch, Dad,” he said.

The catcher was Stouffer’s son, Jay Jr., who secretly came home from Tennessee to surprise his dad for the occasion.

“I think I got him,” Jay Jr. said. “It was pretty special.”

Only a very few were in on the grand plan. It caught Jay totally off guard.

“I was totally surprised,” the elder Stouffer said. “I thought it was one of the (Hagerstown) Suns players or one of the kids. It was a good thing I didn’t know about this ahead of time ... I don’t think I could have thrown the ball.”

It was the first emotional moment of the tournament. Colbert’s voice cracked a little while speaking of Stouffer. Spectators — local and visiting alike — stopped to congratulate Stouffer, some shaking his hand while telling him they were taken by the moment.

Baseball — specifically Maugansville Little League’s version of the game — has coursed through the veins of the Stouffer family for decades. The Stouffer “team” effort is credited as becoming the foundation that allowed the small town on the north side of Washington County the opportunity to host the state tournament.

So much so, it was labeled as a historic event. That made it one Jay Jr. couldn’t miss.

“This was fantastic, especially with all (his dad) has done for the league here,” the younger Stouffer said. “With all the time he spent away from the family, it was great to come and surprise him.”

As the Stouffer family— Jay, wife Betty, daughter Penny and Jay Jr. — left Jay W. Stouffer Field to applause, Colbert called them “the first family of Maugansville baseball.”

And that family and the league’s baseball history was characterized by the simple act of a father playing catch, even for one brief moment, with his son.

There is nothing complicated about that.  

Bob Parasiliti is a sports writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by email at bobp@herald-mail.com

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