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Mitchell: Baseball and the bonds of family
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Growing up, my dad was never a catcher when he played baseball.

Like me, I’m sure he could never quite get used to the idea of squatting for seven innings in protective equipment in 95-degree weather.

But when his son became a pitcher, he didn’t have much choice but to adjust. And so he did.

For 12 or 13 years, he’d squat into position in the front yard while I threw pitch after pitch, day after day. He never had to worry too much about my fastball, which was often outstripped by passing butterflies, but the curveball was a different story.

The majority of time, he was catching without shin guards, and I’m sure he could give you a better estimate of the number of bruises he acquired trying to catch the balls I’d throw in the dirt.

But, him playing catcher made me happy, and so it made him happy, too.

I tell that story because I had the pleasure of spending time speaking with Steve Ernst on Saturday at the West Hall baseball field. Steve’s son, Brian Ernst, a former pitcher on the West Hall baseball team, died in March 2010 after a two-year battle with cancer.

We spoke for about an hour, and among the many things I learned about Brian, I was particularly struck by the bond his father, himself and his brother, Brett, had through baseball.

From the time Brian was three years old, Steve took his two sons out to the West Hall baseball field to practice. For one season at West Hall, he and his wife, Donna, were able to see Brett and Brian play on the same team.

Brett and Brian, despite being three years apart in age, were joined at the hip, Steve said. And after Brian’s death, Brett, who had been playing baseball at Middle Georgia College, found it too painful to continue.

I can only imagine, now, how much they all cherish those memories on the field.

And it makes me think about all those afternoons I spent with my dad, and wonder why my glove has been stashed somewhere in the garage gathering dust for so long.

Life isn’t about baseball, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be true the other way around.

Sometimes life throws you a curveball. Sometimes, you get a bad hop. As in baseball, your success in life depends on how you are able to adjust to the circumstances you are given.

Sometimes things seem so important to us, like whether our team wins, whether it signs the best free agent or whether or not we are accomplishing what we’d like to in our lives.

And sometimes, there’s nothing as important as grabbing a glove and playing catch with someone you love.

There is a cap to the number of tosses of the baseball we have in our lives, so it’s important to make every one count.

To my dad, every knot on his shins is a reminder of the time we spent together. And that’s something you can’t replace.

David Mitchell is a sports writer for The Times. Contact him at