In an earlier post titled “Waiting On The Curveball” I talked about my struggles as a baseball player offensively. When people first hear about my dismal senior year in college at the plate they often ask how I ever signed a contract with a professional club, especially the New York Yankees. The answer is quite simple: I was a “catch and throw” guy as is the label for a good defensive catcher.
As a catcher I was blessed with an unbelievable arm. It took me a while to realize this. It wasn’t until my first year in pro ball that it occurred to me just how well I could throw the baseball when I was out throwing other top-level professional catchers during extended spring on our pop time—a catchers measure of how quickly the ball gets to second base on a base stealing attempt. From my point of view I couldn’t really tell how fast it was getting to second base, but when my pop time was significantly better than the other guys in camp it became evident.
I also worked diligently on my receiving ability. For those that aren’t familiar with the catching position, it requires more than just catching the baseball. Receiving is the ability to make a pitch look more like a strike. It’s the ability to make catching a 95 mile per hour fastball look effortless. In short, it’s an art.
Receiving the baseball requires soft hands. I would describe this as the ability to get the fingers around the baseball before it hits the palm of the hand. Not an easy task. I practiced bare hand with tennis balls because they’re soft and rebound (bounce) out of the hand quickly if you don’t get your fingers around them. It also takes away any “stabbing” at the baseball with the glove, because if you try to swat at the ball as it comes into the glove you’re creating a decreased time to get your fingers around it.
In addition to soft hands you also need to remain firm in your wrist, elbow and shoulder so the ball doesn’t take your arm and glove with its momentum out of the location of the pitch. You see this a lot with curveballs and catchers letting the ball take the glove to the ground and trying to immediately bring it back up into the strike zone as if the umpire didn’t see it. With a firm arm and wrist, a good receiving catcher will stop the pitched ball immediately preserving its appearance in the strike zone, and at the same time make it look like he’s playing catch with his 8-year old son in the backyard.
Catching and receiving are two very separate descriptions of a catchers ability. All catchers can “catch” a baseball, but the great defensive catchers, they receive the baseball. The glove looks like a vacuum when these guys catch. Some that come to mind in today’s Major League ranks are Brian McCann, Yadier Molina, and A.J. Ellis to name a few. One of the best I ever saw, and had the privilege of working under, was Jorge Posada. He could make a Roger Clemens split finger coming in at 91 MPH, or a Mike Mussina curveball tumbling down out of the strike zone, look like he was catching slow pitch softball. Like I said, receiving is an art.
Just like receiving a baseball for a catcher, so too is receiving feedback about the “blind spots” in ourselves. It requires a softness or openness to how others see you, but at the same time you have to be stable in your own skin as to not allow the feedback to take you out and cause you to spin-off in a direction that ultimately doesn’t foster healthy growth.
For many, receiving feedback is difficult. I know it was for me initially. Nothing makes me more angry than someone pointing out something about me that I’ve worked so hard to hide with the mask of the false self. It’s taken years of sitting with others and getting feedback from them for me to soften enough to truly receive, just like years of catching tennis balls bare handed to soften my receiving skills as a catcher.
There’s really no other way, in my experience, to learn who you are than through the eyes of another. I can’t see myself in ways others can, much like I couldn’t “see” how good of an arm I had but others could. But in order to get the feedback needed for positive growth I also need to reveal. I need to shed the mask of my false self, be vulnerable, and let others see the real me—the good and the bad. This allows for genuine feedback that leads to growth, and the more receptive you become to feedback, the more you start living from your true self which solidifies you in who you are.
Most of us start out “catching” and unfortunately many remain just catchers. But it should be our pursuit in life to learn how to receive. There is no destination. It’s not about figuring it out or having it all together. It’s about growing. It’s about revealing. It’s about trusting. And it’s about receiving.
Keep shedding the mask.