Mark Harris, in his wonderful baseball novel The Southpaw (1953), talks about an aspect of the game, fly balls.
The Southpaw is the first in a series of novels about Henry Wiggen, a star pitcher for a fictional team, the New York Mammoths.
In an expository passage, Harris observes that it is aesthetically beautiful and satisfying to watch an outfielder do something that is considered routine: catch a fly ball, say, during practice when a coach is hitting fungoes.
He refers to the flight of the ball and the grace it requires to track and catch it.
When you think about it, catching a long fly is a skill one has to develop. It is actually counterintuitive, in a sense. Think of a person not brought up with baseball in their culture trying to do it (and how ridiculous they often look when they try).
I bought an instructional video on fielding once for my sons Henry and Stephen. It was quite good. The instructor said that the key to catching a fly is to run to the spot where you think it is going to come down and be sure you are under it when it does. Otherwise, you will find yourself out of position, lunging for the ball. If you are already in position, in the right spot, you have a good chance of making the catch.
The instructor also said you have to cradle a grounder like an egg and see it into your glove. I have often marveled at how few errors major league infielders make. I have noticed that they always seem to position themselves correctly, in terms of their stance and glove. It seems to be the key to their success in this regard.
— Roger W. Smith
Below is the text of am email of mine from October 2004 to my older brother, sister, and my uncle, Roger Handy.
From: Roger W. Smith
Sent: Wednesday, October 13, 2004 10:04 AM
Subject: Manny should have caught it
Manny Ramirez looked like a Little Leaguer trying to catch Bernie Williams’s fly in the 8th inning last night. The Sox might have had a chance if they had gone into the 9th one run down.
Everyone knows — as color commentator Al Leiter pointed out — that you are supposed to turn around and run to where you think the ball is headed while looking over your shoulder, not try to catch a fly ball backpedaling waving your glove in the air.
One of the guys I have been playing baseball with lately is a 25 year old ex-minor leaguer in the Mets farm system. He discussed with us some of the fundamentals one is taught in the minors. Things like throwing, basic stance and swing, and so forth.
His advice was actually helpful to me. For instance, I realized I usually throw the ball wrong (overhand instead of three quarters). He tries to coach the kids we play with, some of whom don’t listen.
Where was Manny when they were teaching fundamentals? But come to think of it, I am not sure he ever played minor league ball.