Recounting the spiritual ecstasy of witnessing one of my favorite baseball catches of all time.
Do me a favor. Look at the top of the photo above the headline.
Do you see where the ball is? Tripping over the laces of that long mitt, fighting like hell to get to the other side of the outfield wall, being willed there by millions of fans of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball club who — only a fraction of a second before — watched it rocket off the barrel of their all-star third baseman’s bat.
That baseball just wants what every baseball wants, I suppose, if baseballs can want anything. To be a home run. A memorable postseason one, if possible. And in that photo above the headline, that baseball is thisclose to fulfilling its instinctual drive, like a salmon hurling itself upstream.
Now, if you don’t mind, do me another favor. Look at the bottom of the photo. You’ll see a man’s face. On that man’s face you’ll see an expression that falls somewhere between confusion and transcendence. The man’s name is Endy Chavez. He is (at the time of the photo) the left fielder for the New York Metropolitans baseball club, and the only person standing (leaping?) in front of the inevitable.
Why? Because he wants what every baseball player wants. To make a great play. A memorable postseason one, if possible. And in that photo above the headline, that man is thisclose to fulfilling his instinctual drive, like a grizzly bear pawing that aforementioned salmon into its mouth.
I’m not a Mets fan by any stretch, but I like to give credit where credit is due. Endy Chavez’s catch (9-year spoiler alert #1: yes, he made the catch) was, to me, something else, for lack of a better phrase.
And with the Mets heading to the postseason for the first time since that play in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS against the Cardinals, I thought it was a good time to revisit the catch — and, more importantly — why I love it.
Nine years after the fact, Endy’s catch still lives in my mind, somewhere in the gloaming between Miraculous and Holy Cow. An instant where what’s possible pushed up against the envelope of an outfield wall. It was what psychologists might call a “peak experience” for Endy Chavez — a moment where one uses all his or her capabilities at their highest potential, almost unconsciously. The second I saw it, though, I felt bigger, more expansive, too. It was, no shit, a spiritual experience in the top of the 6th inning.
To give that much credit to a man catching a baseball is admittedly ridiculous, but I can still remember where I was when I saw the damn thing, and if that doesn’t mean it’s special, I don’t know what does.
I’m standing a few bodies back from the bar, grabbing one last pint at my corner pub after a quick bite with my wife. Just gonna watch the game till the end of the inning or the beer, whichever comes first, when / CRACK! / the whole place splits in half right down the middle, each side zeroing in on the closest of two TVs on either side of the room.
Scott Rolen’s line drive is halfway into the Flushing night like a Lear Jet out of LaGuardia, taking the Mets’ season and shot at the World Series along with it. A one way ticket to “Wait ‘till Next Year.” Except there’s this one guy.
The left fielder — who’s playing left tonight? — is on his horse. Not for a second will he catch that train. But he decides fuck it, his body calculating how far he can possibly jump, and carries a 1 instead of 0 by mistake in the internal math of movement and it gives him, I dunno, an inch or two more than my eyes say he should get.
Still won’t be enough, I think, as he slams, fully extended, against the outfield wall.
Wasn’t enough, as he snaps back down to the ground.
Was enough! as he grabs a ball out of his mitt that everyone still thinks pulled an Elvis and left the building, whips his skinny arm like a windsock in a nor’easter, and hits the cut off man neatly who throws out the runner at first. Double play. End of inning.
Wait. What? That guy didn’t just levitate, he turned two.
With the exception of die-hard Mets fans (or Mets fans who look down when they walk), I feel most people don’t talk about Endy’s catch enough.
Maybe it has to do with the fact that (9-year spoiler alert #2) the Mets lost the game, so the catch didn’t propel the team to the World Series. Or maybe it has to do with the fact that Endy Chavez wasn’t a Hall of Famer who’s career might have pushed the play into our cultural sports consciousness.
But it doesn’t matter to me that the Mets lost (Mets fans might disagree), or that Endy wasn’t Willie Mays (Endy might disagree).
What matters is I saw something that night just beyond the ordinary — someone’s peak experience. And at the end of the day, that’s what we’ll be pulling for as we spend the next month watching these playoff games, right?
To see someone wrestle the -possible away from the im-, and somehow find a way to bottle that flash for ourselves to use on whatever fields we play.
Oh, I almost forgot…
Tom Elia is a freelance writer and ad man who could’ve played pro ball if he were only a lot taller, faster, stronger, and more coordinated. This piece is for Emil, the biggest Mets fan he’s ever known.