'It's just playing catch — until it's not'
In his quest to play catch every day for a year, John Scukanec spent day No. 144 with The I-5 Corridor.
CAMAS, Wash. — How in the world did I forget my glove?
I was already losing steam on this story — John Scukanec, a Washougal man, is playing catch every day for a year — after a few other news outlets jumped on the story since I reached out to John a week ago. Also, I woke up this Saturday morning with an aching back and now I’ve driven 40 minutes across state lines into Camas to play catch with a grown man I haven’t met.
And I forgot my glove.
For a moment, sitting in my car across from Crown Park’s pickleball courts, I think of bailing. John’s not here yet and I’m sure I could whip up an excuse to go home — a place I find myself hiding too much since the pandemic — but he soon pulls up in his truck, files through his cab and slaps a Wilson mitt into my hands with his son Jackson’s name stitched into the side. We walk into the middle of the park, stand 15 feet apart and start lightly throwing the baseball around.
I’ve been playing softball during the summers, but I can’t remember the last time I threw an actual baseball. Probably some time with my dad years ago, with my dog Ele screeching in pursuit. It’s been too long, and the small ball satisfyingly whips off my finger tips.
My back is loosening up. I’m smiling. I’m…making a whole lot of eye contact here.
“When you play catch, you’re in this moment together right?” John says. “I have to look at you to throw the ball and I have to trust that you’re going to catch it and throw it back.”
This is the 144th day blue-eyed John has thrown in a row, a streak born out of frustration. He had Opening Day Mariners tickets canceled because of the MLB lockout in March, came across a podcast about a Kansas City man playing catch every day and the next evening found himself in the backyard throwing with his oldest son, AJ.
On Day 2, John came home to find Jackson, 17, with a glove asking if “he was still doing that catch thing?” On Day 3, he threw with his wife, Heather. On Day 4, he drove 26 minutes to his dad’s place in Hazel Dell.
“You know how many people out there can’t play catch with their dad?” John says, looking at the ball for a second before tossing it softly back over. “Mine lives 20 minutes away from me and it took this stupid thing for me to get off my butt and go see him.”
On Day 100, John and his brother Jason asked the family who now lives in the home they grew up in if they could throw in the backyard.
The Scukanec brothers were known in Vancouver as football players — Jason became an All-American center at BYU and John played tackle at Washington State — but it was in that yard the two spent endless summer hours hitting Wiffle balls off the house’s “Brown Monster” in left field.
“Anything hit on the ground was a hit if it got to the house, but if it died in the grass, it’s an out. So I’d leave the grass higher on the left side because Jason likes to pull it,” he says.
On Day 116, John cried.
A friend of a friend set up a catch with Darrell and Kris Tyacke, a father and son whose lives changed 22 years ago when Kris, then a high school quarterback at Beaverton, was paralyzed after a hit. John spent most of his drive over there nervous. To that point, he had mainly played in parks with family and friends. But now he was being welcomed into someone’s home, and here he was playing catch with Darrell and listening to Kris open up about the accident.
“When you play catch you drop your guard and you just talk,” John says. “I couldn’t stop thinking, like, I’ve been hit 1,000 times playing football and sometimes it felt like something might be wrong. But every time I got up. I just wondered what would it be like to not get up and go about living your life. I was just crying and I had to apologize for getting emotional and Kris is just being a rock.”
John says the afternoon ended with a glove in Kris’ lap, who caught a throw and brought it back with his chair.
“It counts as a catch if you throw and the ball comes back,” he says, “[Kris] told me he never thought he’d play catch again.
“Sometimes it’s just a catch, until it’s not.”
Now I’m crying.
I glance at the time and we’ve been throwing for an hour. There were 15 minutes spent on the end of Seattle’s 14-game winning streak, another 10 on our separate trips to Cooperstown and a few satisfying minutes of the type of silence only rivaled by a camp fire. John’s still got more than 200 days of this to go, but his story’s gained a bit of steam and he’s finding himself having to schedule people out more than two weeks in advance. He’s dreamt himself up a scenario where the Mariners ask him to throw out a first pitch to former catcher Dan Wilson, who will then throw it back to complete the round of catch.
And if Day 365 isn’t spent on the front lawn of Ken Griffey Jr.’s Florida mansion, John’s thinking about inviting everyone he’s spent time with over the last year to have a final catch here in this park.
I like that one. Because after I return his son’s glove and I hop into my car, I notice my arm’s a bit sore and I wonder how many days until I can throw again.
— Tyson Alger
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