Pitch and catch

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With most of the country recently ravaged by snowstorms, the spring season seems little more than a beacon in the distance. This week, that beacon became a little brighter for baseball fans, as Major League Baseball’s spring training officially began.

When the power hitters and base-stealers showed up to the facilities, they probably found a familiar group of guys hard at work devising, rehearsing and becoming intimately familiar with a secret language that will prove paramount to the success of the team.

The pitchers and catchers for each organization are first to arrive at camp, and frame a timeless, pure and quintessential image of baseball: two men, each sporting a leather glove and playing catch on the freshly cut grass of the diamond. Spring is a time when one of the most important relationships in all of sports is forged.

During the course of a season, the pitching staff and catchers will be asked to silently communicate with each other, 60 feet and 6 inches between them, to dictate the flow of the game. Fingers will be held up, twirled or pointed by the catcher, followed by a tap of the chest protector or a lean to one side, all indicating an approach to a moment. The catcher must know when to pull the outfielders in or shift them according to the anticipated swing of the man at the plate, or when to ask the pitcher for a fastball high in the zone, based upon rhythm, experience, research, analysis and a certain amount of gut intuition.

To pair a pitcher and catcher who have never thrown to each other all but guarantees a horrendous experience. You could bring a player in “cold” to man centerfield, pinch run or hit, or play the hot corners; the results may be underwhelming, as there are always nuances that lead to success, but a pitching tandem comprised of strangers would be like expecting two fellas that don’t speak the same language to silently write a sitcom together. The results would likely be unwatchable.

But when executed properly, the exchange between a veteran pitcher and a knowledgeable catcher can be magnificent to watch. This time of the year, from our still-frigid temperatures, it’s a welcomed, comfortable thought that in Arizona or Florida, the smack of the ball from glove to glove signifies warm weather and baseball on the horizon.

Nic R. Krause was born a cranky curmudgeon of a child in a Minnesota suburb. He was plucked from the muggy tundra and relocated to Colorado Springs 22 years ago. From intramural jai-alai to his complicated relationship with the Minnesota Vikings, Nic, plainly stated, is bonkers for sports. Follow him on Twitter @NicRKrause.

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