Commentary: Playing, or having a, catch

Sports slang changes with the seasons, almost as quickly, and with just as little rhyme or reason, as hip-hop lyrics evolve the use of language - well, maybe with a bit less (rhythm or) rhyme. Athletes and announcers invent or adopt catchy or kitschy terms and phrases to give life and a sense of style to their sports vernacular; giving a certain spoken sartorialism to sportsspeak.

A colloquialism can be born from a local or regional dialect or expression. Sports, too, have their own vernacular. At times, the interplay between the two can cause a divide over the correct definition or proper usage of a sports-centric word or phrase.

Unlike seasonal slang, some sports vernacular should be universal and remain unchanged, regardless of location or the passage of time.

One such universally unchangeable sports-centric term is, or should be, to "play catch." Used in a sentence, "Hey son, let's go play catch." However, and for-better-or-worse, it turns out that "playing catch" is more colloquial than universal, and is subject to regional sports dialect.

Some people, including professional baseball players, have never "played catch" a day in their lives. Instead, they "have a catch" or have "had a catch."

I grew up "playing catch." It wasn't until I met my first friends from Philadelphia that I was invited to "have a catch." I was confused. Catch is a verb; not a noun. Catch is something you do or play; not something that is (to be had). But, and as it turns out, people have at it - catching - all the time; often in place of playing (catch).

Common sense (and grammar), and local colloquialisms, seem to support the correctness of "playing catch." So much so that "playing catch" sounds like the proper and universal usage; belonging in a dictionary of sports terminology and phraseology.

However, and blasphemously so, in a key scene in none other than Field of Dreams - a quintessential baseball movie that it probably belongs in some version of the sports movie equivalent of Harold Bloom's Western Canon - Kevin Costner's Ray Kinsella invites his father, John, to "have a catch."

A baseball team has a catcher. Its players do not "have a catch." People "playing catch" have gloves. "Having a catch" could make sense, at least to some degree, if gloves were renamed "catches." Then again, you can "have a ball" and do so while doing myriad activities, none of which involve (having) an actual ball (let alone "playing catch" with one).

Sports-centric semantics aside, and whether you play or have a catch, doing so should be a compulsory parent-child activity; provided, if you throw like the dad in the Volkswagen commercial, that you first seek-out a tutorial on proper throwing mechanics from a father-figure or athletically-blessed friend of your own to prevent the passing-along of improper throwing techniques to your kid. Learning to throw a ball - whether a baseball, football, or other - with proper mechanics is an invaluable skill; ranking right up there with reading, writing and (doing) arithmetic well.

The irony in the debate over the proper way to invite someone to play or have a catch is that the action of catching is, in some ways, the secondary skill involved in the activity; throwing being the main teaching point - though I guess playing or having a catch with someone who can't do the same may grow tiresome rather quickly. Maybe, even if the fundamental abilities to throw and catch, respectively, are of equal importance to the activity of playing and/or having a catch, both are secondary benefits to, or to be derived from the same.

Maybe the more valuable take-away is something a bit more abstract and less tangible than one's relative ability to throw or to catch. Maybe, the most valuable take away from playing or having a catch is simply the time spent doing so - the time spent between and among parent and child, or among friends or teammates; outside; playing catch; having a ball; together.