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The Hidden Magic of Playing Catch: Changing Lives One Throw at a Time

These folks are making memories, restoring physical and mental health, and finding a fresh perspective on life. And it all started with a simple toss.

An illustration of Ethan D. Bryan participating in the Catch 365 challenge where you have a catch every single day of the year.
Credit-Ethan D. Bryan

My baseball career ended when I was 16 years old. I was a bench-warming relief pitcher on my high school’s junior varsity team. I quit playing before my body caught up with my baseball dreams.

Twenty-seven years later, those dreams were given a second chance.

At the age of 43 and with the inspiration of my daughters, I played catch for a year. That effort came to be known as “Catch 365.”

I wrote a book about the incredible experience, and people all over the country read it. And then they started their own Catch 365 journeys.

The stories of catch-players across the country are inspirational.

Like Jason Henkel of Oregon, who played catch while receiving treatment for brain cancer.

Adam Hazel of California spent his year playing catch with his children and friends.

Kevin Negaard of Iowa raised $369,000 for the Miracle League of Sioux City during his “Wanna Have a Catch” year and practiced turning double plays with Ozzie Smith. His journey inspired the invention of a device that enables all people to play catch.

Dan Bryan of Missouri played catch in honor of his son – Ethan C. Bryan – who passed away from an automotive accident on the way home from baseball practice. His ESPN short feature, Baseball Seams to Heal, was nominated for a national Sports Emmy. Dan played catch with Albert Pujols and threw out a first pitch for the Cardinals.

John Scukanec of Washington ended his Catch 365 journey playing catch with Ken Griffey, Jr., and kept going. His Catch Everyday has cleared 450 days.

The Catch 365 stories continue to accrue:

Joe and Travis from Missouri; J.D. from Boston; David from Rochester; and Don who is playing catch in honor of his son, Jonathan.

In March, I created the “30 Days of Catch Challenge,” with the simple goal to try and get people to pick up their glove and make some new friends throwing a ball.

Spencer Durham, a journalist from Indiana, embraced the challenge and wrote about his experience.

Matt is a pastor in Indianapolis, IN. He checked out my book from his local library and discovered Spencer’s column tucked away in the middle. Matt is spending the month of August playing catch in hopes of raising $15,000 for his local food pantry.

This summer, I am the Official Catch Partner of the Portland Pickles. It’s pretty fun being a “big dill” in southwest Missouri. While wearing my Pickles Catch 365 jersey, I crashed a practice for a 9U team and thoroughly enjoyed playing catch with those just starting their baseball journeys.

And within the last couple of weeks, I’ve partnered with researchers at Missouri State University to study the psychological and sociological benefits of playing catch.

We live in a play-deprived culture where depression, anxiety, loneliness, and distrust are increasing and we are always digitally distracted. Playing catch is a simple way to address these cultural ills and allow play to do what play is supposed to do – make new friends and meaningful memories, restore our physical and mental health, and give us a fresh and optimistic perspective on life.

The heart of Catch 365 is this: Making meaningful connections with every throw, every catch, every story.

I’m now (almost) 49 years old and want to play catch with the entire world.

I want to get to Boston and Rochester and Albany and connect with J.D. and Don and David before their catch-playing years are over. (Also, I’ve got to find a way to play catch in front of the Green Monster. That’s one of my bucket list dreams.)

I want to get to Portland and play catch with my Pickles teammates at Walker Stadium in front of Mt. Hood.

Allie Lacey is the founder of Ball Girls Baseball. She is also a ball girl for the LA Dodgers and was a participant in the 30 Days of Catch challenge. This August, her team will be the first all-girls team to play at the All-Star Village in Cooperstown. I’d love to be there and cheer her team on and play catch with each of them.

I’m also developing a mentorship curriculum for kids 9-10 centered on playing catch and character development, as well as visiting with Team RWB about playing catch with local veterans.

I have yet to find a job posting for a catch-playing storyteller, but I believe there are those who might be willing to partner with me in spreading joy and wonder through the Catch 365 movement. If you’re interested, send me a note – wannaplaycatch at gmail dot com.

Nelson Mandela once said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination.”

In a world where the news cycle overflows with hate, playing catch is a subversive act of hope.

Ethan's Book
A Year of Playing Catch: What a Simple Daily Experiment Taught Me About Life
$17.32

For baseball fans and everyone who loves good story, A Year of Playing Catch is an inspiring journey about finding joy in the simple things, and the power of play to transform our lives.

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03/08/2024 05:59 pm GMT

Editor’s Note: Huge thank you to Ethan for sharing these inspiring stories. Incredible to think all this started with one simple throw. Be sure to check out Ethan’s book, and shoot him a note if you’re interested in supporting Catch 365. Personally, I can’t wait to play catch this summer!

Written By

Ethan D. Bryan is the author of A Year of Playing Catch, along with 11 other books. He believes that playing catch can make the world a better place and lives in Springfield, MO, close to the best quarter batting cages in the state.

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