A Glove of Their Own: Real Heroes Teach the Art of Catching

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A Glove of Their Own: Real Heroes Teach the Art of Catching
(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Whenever you get the chance to talk to someone that has been there, it’s always special to see it through their eyes.

 

On June the 19, 2009, I was given the pleasure of an audience with Brent Mayne, a 15 year Major League Veteran. My connection with Brent was made through a gentleman named Bob Salomon, one of the driving forces behind A Glove of Their Own.

 

Bob had originally connected with Brent by reaching out to him through checkswing.com. Which is a social networking site for former and current players and coaches.

 

As we slid into the interview, I asked Brent what his first impressions of A Glove of Their Own were, and he opened up with a great answer. You can tell this book continues to go that extra mile to touch people.

 

“You know it’s a really neat thing” he said, “the point it is getting at is, if you do things correctly, you do them the right way and for the right reasons that success kind of comes. For me playing baseball that was a real big concept…if I did things correctly and didn’t worry about the results, than the process would take care of the results.”

 

As I would come to learn, process is a staple for Brent. He is a big believer in being part of things for the right reason. In the case of Brent the there are many right reasons, and one of them he mentions when talking about why he wrote the art of catching, is giving back.

 

Now to better understand Brent’s journey and thought process you really do have to start at the beginning. “I grew up in a baseball family, my dad was a high school baseball coach, and I’ve been around the ball park since the time I was in diapers.”

 

When I asked him where his equivalent of the Old Oak Tree stood. Brent paused, “That’s a great question…the first baseball park that I remember was at Eisenhower High School in Rialto. That was my place; I didn’t play in front of anybody there. But I spent a good portion of my young life there.”

 

It’s funny how 15 years in the majors or 40 years in the mailroom all start out with a similar story. Whether your David Allan or Brent Mayne, and whether it’s Eisenhower High School or the Back Stop at Rose Schymanski Park the lessons are the same.

 

The other thing that doesn’t change no matter who’s answering the question is, “Did you have any quirky rules? What were they?"

 

Brent paused (with what I took as a where to start?). For a moment before answering, “Anybody who’s in their 40’s or late 30’s definitely is going to have stories about that. I don’t think kids now days play baseball that way. It’s not so much the over the line or three fly’s up or sock ball or rock ball or whatever the heck games we’d make up.”

 

I really think Brent gets the heart of why A Glove of Their Own has been so successful in connecting with adults. It really takes them to a place isn’t about Little League as he described it today.

 

As  Brent went on is more about todays game he described, “year round baseball, uniforms, and competitive, but back then when we were playing you name it, there were all kinds of rules, there were ghost runners, missing bases, their were rules about what were home runs and not home runs, where you could hit the ball and where you couldn’t hit the ball depending on how many players you had in the field."

"We had eight billion rules and that was half the fun.”

 

Talking to Mayne there is certain ownership, a responsibility to his youth playing days to pass that along and let every child feel like George Brett or Todd Helton. You feel that he and his friends on their own field, own a little piece of baseball. They had their own rules, a set of rules that were universal and yet universally different.

 

Geography or not, if you were 8, 10, 12 year old Brent Mayne, or future team mates like Todd Helton in Knoxville, Tennessee, Mark McGwire in Pomona, or George Brett who years earlier made up rules from West Virginia to El Segundo there is a tie that binds in baseball, organized or otherwise.

 

Just as each of the 30 major league stadiums has it quirks, the short porch in right as Yankee stadium, the Monster at Fenway, the huge outfield at Dodgers stadium, or the thin air of Coors, so did each neighborhood. So did each and every different version of the fields of their youth.

 

During his transition from high school to Orange Coast College was where he made his move from the middle infield to behind the dish.

 

I asked him if it was a difficult transition. He was more told that college was in his future and if he was doing that he might as well be playing baseball for his Dad while he did it. As Brent mentioned though it came with a catch, “The caveat he (Brent’s Father) said, is you have to start catching, you are too slow, too weak and too small to play any other position.”

 

Brent had told me he was 5’6 and 135lbs. upon graduation of high school.

 

To Brent it offered a fresh start because the truth as his father laid it out was, “whether it be with me or much less at a four year school, you’re going to have to start catching and to be honest with you, not having any success at any other position I was eager to play the catching position and explore it, their was no downside for me.”

 

Now right around the time Brent said yes, as he described, “A couple of things happened, he (Brent’s father) along with a couple of other guys were reinventing the catch position…trying to take it from a 1970’s Johnny Bench style position to something that could deal with the speed of the modern game.”

 

From there he went on to spend a couple of years at Cal State Fullerton and then on to the major leagues.

 

It is that change from the stocky Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, or Thurmon Munson style catcher that has helped facilitate the change in catching that we have seen in recent history. Mayne points to Bob Boone as a bridge between what a catcher was and what he was going to become.

 

It’s the principles that his father was experimenting with using his son as a “Guinea Pig” that not only carried Brent to the Majors. But it is these principles that Brent Mayne is promoting with his book The Art of Catching and at his website www.BrentMayne.com

 

When I asked Mayne about his time at Cal-State Fullerton and his fond memories of playing their, you can tell he still feels an attachment to the young men that are currently playing at the College World Series. He also mentioned his dad Mike was the pitching coach for the 2008 NCAA Champion Fresno State Bulldogs.

 

So it is clear that teaching is in the blood.

 

When talking about the joy and excitement he felt for his father as he got to watch him enjoy the Bulldogs win, and his son getting to be the team’s bat boy. I am brought back to the children, everywhere, the thrill of victory.

 

So I asked, “Is there anyone you played with, whether it was in the minors or the majors that had that level of joy or excitement that we talk about with little kids?”

 

His answer was as refreshing as it was instant.

 

Almost before I could finish the question he responded, “Almost without a guy (sic), every great player is like that. To a guy about every great player, for me uh, George Brett, Mark McGwire, to Todd Helton were great players, and almost to a man the really good players are the guys that approach the game like little kids.”

 

He continued on in describing how that child like mentality allowed them to stay in the moment and brush off failure without being rattled by it. He continued, “This game will crush you if you take it too seriously or get too down on yourself when you do poorly because that’s the way the game is designed.”

 

He then went on to acknowledge, baseball is a game of failure and bounce back, a quality we definitely have more of in our youth. Brent continued, “If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a Billion times, if you get a hit three out of ten times you get to go live on a Yacht."

"But you have to be able to deal with failing seven times, or striking out seven times out ten which is a tremendous amount of failure.”

 

As he talked I wandered back to A Glove of Their Own. It maybe the reason we stay connected to baseball so long, the game is full of great lessons. It was at that point that Mayne had planted one right in front of my face, which I hadn’t even thought of.

 

Of course I had understood failure, but where had I learned to deal with it more effectively than on a diamond where you weren’t allowed to hit it right because there was a bee’s nest?

 

Where had failure been more obvious than the fly ball I didn’t hit to score the run from third base?

 

He explained an innocent quality to the greats, “there is no ulterior motive, and they aren’t playing to make money.”

 

He went on to explain that for 90% of big league rosters that is the case. Brent doesn’t have his head in the sand. He knows there is an exceptional living to be made from playing baseball, that being said, “Their main motivation is that they love the game, and they love competing.”

 

He went back to a point that he made repeatedly from the beginning of the interview, “it goes back to what we talked about in the very beginning, in letting the process take care of the results.”

 

We have seen a couple of managers use position players in relief this year, but while with the Rockies Brent managed to get a relief win. When asked if he could pitch, he responded, “Absolutely!” the result from a stat line that year 1 – 0 with an ERA of 0.00.

 

Mayne did admit that the competitive nature of athletes is such that they all think they can pitch, and every pitcher thinks he can hit. He mentioned it certainly gave him a new perspective and respect for pitchers to go out there and actually do it.

 

When I asked him later about what he tried to impress on young catchers, he said, “Try every position.”  In this respect you’d have a hard time convincing me that Brent Mayne didn’t practice what he preached.

 

“You know the funny thing about baseball,” he continued, “the way baseball is, it’s so upside down, I spent my whole life trying to be a great catcher but the thing I’ll probably recognized most for when I die is that I won a game as a pitcher, that’s so like baseball.”

 

We continued on down memory lane, discussing a night in 1991 when he was behind the plate with Brett Saberhagen on the mound pitching a no hitter, I asked, "what does it feel like to be the catcher in that situation?"

 

He quickly found the words, “As a catcher you take it personally ...you have a portion of that win or that loss that you are responsible for.”

 

“In my mind I am right there… I am just as nervous and just as anxious as he probably is”, said Mayne.

 

Now what came next amazed me, as you hear about their being something special in the air. It’s a term that really relates to those great nights in sport. It’s that intangible that you can’t put your finger on.

 

As Brent was telling the story, he mentioned that he had done something that night, something different that he hadn’t done before and hadn’t done since. What caught me off guard was not that he had such a moment, but was how direct it was.

 

“It was a unique, experience, I don’t know how to explain it other than it was really intense and pins and needles, but it was also very enjoyable because coming out of the bullpen that particular game (after the 10-15 minute warm up session) I said he’s going to throw a no hitter today, because it just felt like it was that kind of stuff.

 

Brent also made the point, “to succeed at that level you have to do it more than 99% of the people in the world, and if you are doing something more than 99% of the people in the world, you probably enjoy doing it.”

 

To further address the process, he went on to say, “the money is simply a bi-product of approaching your craft the right way.”

 

As I listened to Brent my brain took me back to the start of the interview. His credo, of “take care of the process, and the results will come” is as powerful a message as A Glove of Their Own’s, Play it Forward. Both are about setting yourself up for success. One is the hand you’re given, and the other is the one you use to pull yourself and others up.

 

There are plenty of times in life we could take a short cut, we could leave someone out, or off the list. It’s when you talk to a guy like Brent Mayne you realize the only way to get to the top is to have tremendous support and to go after your goals and your dreams with dedication.

 

I know it seems obvious, but he makes the point that it is about more than time spent, it’s about quality time spent, and I think that can be applied to parenting, teaching and learning.

 

When you’re young they tell you to go practice, be it the piano, algebra or hitting the cut off man. What they don’t tell you is to practice correctly, and that is the proactive approach that Mayne has taken.

It is a lesson that once learned can help and individual excel in all aspects of his or her life. It is the correctly part, that Mayne is trying to address with The Art of Catching.

 

When we finally got around to talking about The Art of Catching, you realize that Mayne simply saw as he called it, “a void in information” around this particular position.

 

As he said it, “is not true for any other position.” He goes to talk about the importance of catching, “arguable the most important position on the field is just slipping through the cracks.” (In regard to readily available info.)

 

Mayne goes on to describe it as, “mistaught, if it is taught at all, and more often than not it’s just take the biggest kid and throw him back there.”

 

As he mentioned not only the way he was taught, but the knowledge he gained over 1279 games behind the plate in the big leagues. (He ranks 75th all time.)

 

The intention of the book was simply explained by Mayne, “it’s a lot of information that I had and I thought I’d share it, that was my main motivation.”

 

The book is being followed with instructional videos, as well as his website.

 

We got a chance to discuss the style he brought to the game; the style which he describes in The Art of Catching has what has become the norm, the standard in today’s Major Leagues.

 

With the aid of ESPN Classic he mentioned, “It’s really easy to see the progression if you click on an ESPN Yankee game and watch Thurmon Munson catch, and compare that to the way Jorge Posada catches, its light years different.”

 

When I asked Brent about The Art of Catching, he spoke about the book audience and how diverse it could be.

 

He mentions that that whether you be a little leaguer or a major leaguer he doesn’t treat or teach anyone any differently. He feels the concepts are straight forward, and it not only makes you a better catcher, but considering, “the catcher touches the ball on almost every play.” It gives you a chance to enhance your team’s chances of winning.

 

Mayne was very candid about catching opportunities, whether it be in the MLB, little league,  or college stating, “The truth of the matter is that catcher, that is the easiest position to play in the big leagues, or to go on and play at any level is catching because their just aren’t that many good ones.”

 

As he first talked about the book it seemed obvious that coaches and players would be interested in the book but he then made the point, “even as a curious fan, if you just want to know what the heck is going on back there….I think it can totally enhance your enjoyment of the game.”

 

As players and fans, isn’t that what we all strive to do, is enhance our enjoyment of the game? To better understand it strategy? Luckily along the way we are able to gather some life lessons.

 

To go back to excellence, you have to be doing whatever you’re doing more than 99% of the other people out there.

 

I asked Brent about the 12 month, 365 days sports cycle that Americans have fallen pray to, and he made some very interesting points about the structure of practice and the opportunities to practice you craft.

 

He used the example of the kids that are coming from, The Dominican Republic or Mexico, where they have other priorities in life, but nearly all of their experience in life mirrors that of the kids in a glove of their own.

 

Most of those future major leaguers coming out these countries are currently playing, rock ball, sock ball, over the line, or a version of three flies up. Most of these young men and women play a game that was more common to American before the invention of the 12 month sport cycle.

 

They and treasure a baseball, because it means they get to play tomorrow, and it doesn’t matter if their backstop is a half broken down fence, and home plate is a bicycle rim. In front of that fence, stepping up to that rim they may take 25 or 50 swings a day.

 

When these children along with so many others practice and play, they aren’t coached to use two hands, they are forced to. Maybe one had that won’t be the case in Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Florida, Texas, New York, California, or anywhere else for that matter, but one at a time people are trying to make sure they have A Glove of Their Own.

 

Brent Mayne is a former major league catcher that spent 15 years playing amongst the best in the world. He was drafted 13th over all in the first round by the Royals. He also played for The Mets, Athletics, Rockies, Giants, Diamondbacks, and Dodgers. He can be reached at www.BrentMayne.com.

It contains information regarding his career, catching tips, and a link where you can pick up The Art of Catching.


Bob Salomon is a father, little league coach, and one of the driving forces behind the message in A Glove of Their Own.
www.agloveoftheirown.com


And I am David Allan, your fellow Bleacher Creature, available for free lance work.
mr.david.allan@gmail.com

 

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