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O's 'Have A Catch' to connect with community

MLB.com @RichardJustice

Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph is like millions of other kids in this country in how he first fell in love with baseball. He played catch with his dad. Simple, right? He played with others, too, with friends and cousins and uncles. He played Wiffle ball as well, and then moved on to baseball.

Some of the very first things Joseph loved about baseball -- playing catch with his dad -- occurred to him the other day when he was playing catch in the outfield before a game.

Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph is like millions of other kids in this country in how he first fell in love with baseball. He played catch with his dad. Simple, right? He played with others, too, with friends and cousins and uncles. He played Wiffle ball as well, and then moved on to baseball.

Some of the very first things Joseph loved about baseball -- playing catch with his dad -- occurred to him the other day when he was playing catch in the outfield before a game.

"It just kind of hit me," Joseph said. "I was probably 150 feet away from that day's starting pitcher. You can't just pick up a ball and do it. You have to practice. It's no different than being able to throw a football or shoot a three-pointer in basketball."

And yet he was doing the very thing he did when he started playing. That simple idea -- playing catch -- is what the Orioles had in mind when they decided to have "Have A Catch" events.

Tweet from @Orioles: #HaveACatch Tip: ���Don���t be afraid of the ball��� - @MychalGivens pic.twitter.com/iQV5Jq8f6z

The Orioles -- current and former players, team executives and the Oriole Bird mascot -- will be in and around Baltimore this week, in schools and community centers and parks and other places, inviting kids to "Have A Catch."

There will also be events at the Orioles Minor League affiliates and in Sarasota, Fla., the club's Spring Training home.

This is about two things. First, it's introducing more kids to one of the best things about baseball. In doing so, they'll be reminding some of the rest of us of one of the reasons we fell in love with baseball in the first place.

Playing catch's beauty is in its simplicity. It's something virtually every player does every single day of the season. For a lot of folks, that sound of baseballs popping into leather gloves is one of the sweetest sounds on the planet.

"I had quite a few aunts and uncles close to me [in Tennessee]," Joseph said. "We grew up playing outside, in general. You play a lot of catch, and that's where you start falling in love with it."

Baltimore's "Have A Catch" program was inspired by Commissioner Rob Manfred's Play Ball initiative that has held events all over the country inviting kids to play baseball and softball.

Manfred's goal is simple: He wants every kid in this country to have a chance to play baseball.

It's about more than baseball in a lot of places. Baseball's Urban Youth Academies around the country offer tutoring and mentoring programs along with introducing young people to baseball career possibilities beyond playing: broadcasting, administration, scouting ... you name it.

The Orioles began "Have A Catch" events with a charity fundraiser that allowed fans to play catch on the field at Camden Yards on Sunday. On Monday, Orioles reliever Mychal Givens and the Oriole Bird visited Pauline Fauntleroy Park and played catch with students from New Song Academy.

Tweet from @Orioles: .@MychalGivens visited youth from New Song Academy for a #HaveACatch event today. Check our Snapchat story to see it from his perspective. pic.twitter.com/PcYn8oJWdz

There'll be other community events on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the Orioles will give away 500 Major League Baseball foam baseballs, and youth bat-and-ball sets.

On Wednesday at Camden Yards, 14-year-old Luke Terry, who had his right arm amputated as an infant, will take part in a ceremonial first catch from a surprise guest before an Indians-Orioles game. His ability to learn to play baseball despite his handicap has made him an inspiration to many.

He'll join Joseph and another Orioles catcher, Welington Castillo, along with bench coach John Russell for a catching clinic and workout.

"Playing catch is one of the most basic elements of our game and yet also one of the most rewarding," said Greg Bader, Orioles vice president, communications and marketing. "Whether it's the memory of that first game of catch with a loved one or a friendly toss between teammates at the game's highest level, the simple act of playing catch is a meaningful experience. The best part of this initiative is that children don't need expensive equipment or an entire team to have a catch -- just a ball and a throwing partner."

For players like Joseph, being out in the community and doing events is one of the most rewarding parts of their jobs. It remind them of how important they are in the lives of the people who care about the Orioles.

"It's a little overwhelming at times," Joseph said. "This city is [longing] for a championship. They come out and support us, and when you see them at lunch or at dinner, they politely let you know with a nod or a wave that they're behind you and appreciate what you're doing."

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Baltimore Orioles