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A Simple Game of Catch



June 17, 2014

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska -
It is my role as a parent to embarrass my son at least once every day.

Heck, on good days, I can embarrass him two or three times before lunch time.

Naturally, the bigger the audience the better the embarrassment. I have yet to embarrass him in front of his entire seventh grade class like his mother once did, but I - from my position of relative prominence in Our Fair Salmon City – can usually embarrass him in front of large numbers of Ketchikandians if I put my mind to it.

For example, recently, I got to throw out the first pitch at the regional Junior League baseball tournament.

Now this is a generally pretty simple thing. You pick up the ball, you hold the ball and then you throw the ball. Someone else catches it.

In this case, it was Liam catching it, because he was playing on the Ketchikan team that hosted the tournament.

At first he was really excited that we would be doing this very public “father/son catch” thing.

“Sweet,” he exclaimed.

That’s about as effusive as a 13-year-old boy gets these days.

Then he started thinking it through.

“Dad,” he said.” “We should go the ballpark.”

“Why, son?”

“To practice.

“To practice what?”

“Throwing the ball, Dad.”

Now, I have been throwing baseballs to my son for over a decade. And while I admit I am no Tom Seaver or Sandy Koufax, I usually do okay. I’ve only hit him two or three times.

“But you haven’t pitched off a mound in like 80 years, Dad.”

Ouch. It has only been about 40 years since I have pitched off a mound!

Really, you pick up the ball, you hold the ball, you throw the ball. How hard can it be!

Apparently harder than one would expect.

For example, a rapper by the odd name of 50 Cent is famous all over the Egosphere because he flubbed a first pitch at a Mets game.

Of course, I have to wonder about the name 50 Cent. Presumably it is a nom-de-rap which means he picked it out himself.

Why 50 Cent? Why not Dollar? Why not Four Bits? Why not Eight Bits?

Seems like he is selling himself a bit short.

But I digress.

Anyway Mr. Cent’s windup form looked okay, but then his right foot bucketed toward third base and the ball sailed well wide of the plate toward up the first base line.

You can see the “pitch” all over the net. My favorite part is that the ball sails just past a photographer who doesn’t even flinch.

Then there was Carly Rae Jepson, she of the “Call Me Maybe” fame. All I can say, is when any manager puts in “the call” to the bullpen, he better not be dialing Ms. Here’s My Number.

Anyway, Carly Rae gets a little over the top on her form and basically plants the ball into the dirt about twenty feet in front of her. It's okay,as a Canadian, I'm sure she would be better lobbing a hockey puck.

Of course, all of you are saying, these goobers are singers not athletes. Of course, they can’t throw the ball. They should stick to the National Anthem. Unless they are Roseanne.

Throwing a ball for more competent people (and no pop or rap singer has ever been found competent by a court of law) is simple. You pick up the ball, you hold the ball, you throw the ball. Someone else catches it.

Which naturally reminds me of Ted Williams’ great quote. Someone asked him why he didn’t play golf in his retirement.

“Son,” he said. He apparently called everybody son. “I spent my whole career hitting balls and having other people chase them. Why in the CENSORED would I want to hit a CENSORED ball and CENSORED chase it my CENSORED self?”

Ted Williams liked to use the word CENSORED. In fact, it has been said that he liked saying CENSORED even more than he liked hitting baseballs. Certainly more than he like chasing balls himself. And certainly more than he liked pitchers.

Which leads us to Nolan Ryan. Here was someone who pitched 165 years in the big leagues and was known for his fastball, which was clocked at 235 mph. He set the major league record for no hitters( 92), strike outs (1,327.953.2) and walks (one bazillian).

Which is probably why he is also on You Tube making a less than stellar first pitch throw during an Astros game.

Not sure exactly why he “air mailed” in a first pitch. He is probably just too danged old (903) to be throwing a baseball. You can tell by his stats that Nolan Ryan is similar to Chuck Norris. I think they are the same person. Nolan Ryan was the original Texas "walker."

So, when Liam expressed a concern that I might not throw the best possible pitch in front of all those people, I noted that I was sure I would do better than Fifty Cent, Carly Rae and Von Ryan’s Wild Pitch Express.

He was not mollified in the slightest.

“Dad, you need to throw a few”

So there we were the night before the big event out at Walker Field for a little “throwing.”

Now, 60 feet, six inches is not very far. If you are not Usain Bolt you can cover that distance in about 10 seconds in the crab walk position. Even I can run from the mound to home plate in less than a minute.

Throwing a baseball 60 feet should be very easy. Even for an out of shape former sportswriter like me. And yet when faced with the task, a lot of folks seem to choke. Go figure.

To quote Casey Stengel: You can look it up. On You Tube. An awful lot of people, famous and non-famous ringing up E-1s on a lot of awful First Pitches.

Fortunately, during our practice session, I steamed several balls in to Liam behind the plate. They wouldn’t have fooled Albert Pujos, but they weren’t embarrassing either.

Liam seemed dutifully impressed.

“Hey Dad,” he said with great enthusiasm. “Those were okay.”

Like he was surprised!

The next morning, it was bright and sunny. That is usually a bad omen in Ketchikan. Nothing good ever happens on a bright and sunny day in Ketchikan.

Of course, we never have bright and sunny days in Ketchikan so nothing bad ever happens either.

Anyhoo, it was bright and sunny and that meant perspiration.

As a baseball fan, I am perfectly comfortable sitting back and shouting at the television when pro pitcher misses his mark by two inches with 95 mph heater. Of course, I am sitting in a comfortable chair enjoying a cold one and the pitcher is standing in a 100 degree stadium in front of 50,000 screaming lunatics.

But as I stood on the mound, facing Liam 60 feet away, I felt sweat start beading up on my forehead and my palm get sweaty. I thought about stepping off the rubber and getting some rosin, but that would definitely have embarrassed my child.

So, I turned the ball over in my hand hoping for a less slippery grip. Already, the plate seemed like it was now 100 feet away and receding faster than an ice cream cone on an 80 degree Ketchikan day.

A simple thing. Just grip and throw. I gripped and felt the ball slide around on my fingers.

The Juneau and Sitka teams were lined up on the baselines next to the plate.

I waved at them, like I wanted them to move away. Several of them did. Smart boys.

Liam’s team was lined up behind me.

You could hear their thoughts.

“Throw it, Mr. Kiffer.”

“Come on, man.”

“Geeze Louise., it's hot out here!”

Just as I started to wonder just who the heck Louise was, my right foot went into the windup. My knee began to follow it, complaining all the way. I realized that my arm needed to catch up or I would soon do a face plant worthy of You Tube.

I wind-milled my arm into place, released the ball and watched it sail toward my son. It was a lovely slow motion flight, like you always seen in Kevin Costner movies.

You know what I'm talking about: All eyes on the ball floating toward the plate, at the last minute the slo-mo ends and the ball explodes into the glove disturbing centuries of baseball history dust in a big poof.

But this wasn’t a Kevin Costner baseball movie and my not so fast ball continued to float toward the plate. Liam reached up and gloved it. His sigh of relief was audible. I had not been embarrassing.

Then I walked up to him and he handed me the ball just like all those major league catchers do.

So, I gave him a great big hug

In front of everybody.

Embarrassment accomplished!




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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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