The Times West Virginian

Prep Sports

April 26, 2014

Unspoken bond: Catchers quietly give pitchers peace of mind

FAIRMONT — The basis to any relationship is trust. No one may understand that more than a pitcher and the catcher.

When you step on the mound or into the circle, you hold the game in your hands. The pitches you sling out to the opposing team can dictate whether or not you’re going to walk away with a smile or throw your glove faster and harder than your best fastball at the wall of the dugout after the game.

You can sometimes feel isolated out there, being the only one on an island of piled dirt or being stranded in a chalked circle. But then you look forward toward the plate. The batter goes away. The crowd goes away. Your coach’s voice goes away. It all fades away as you lock on to one figure.

Your catcher.

Like most relationships, every one is different. You have your lifelong relationships, those people that you can’t remember life without them being there. You have those people that share in one special moment with you. And you have those people who are friends with all of your friends and split time between the group.

All three of those types of relationships are evident when the baseball and softball teams of Marion County take the field.

Cassie Toothman has been catching for Tori Postlewait for three years of softball. Now, as the two are upperclassmen, they’ve been a force to be reckoned with.

“It's been wonderful catching for Tori,” Toothman said. “Coming into my sophomore year, I was forced into catching. I didn’t want to whatsoever, so being able to catch for someone that I’m friends with and who is a good pitcher definitely made it easier to transition into.”

Softball is different from baseball in the respect that pitchers aren’t required to take days off from their craft. They can pitch however much they want, or however much the coach chooses to leave them in the circle.

That aspect of the game can go one of two ways. You can not get along and the team chemistry goes out the window. Or you can mesh together and let your relationship breed success like Postlewait and Toothman have.

“Just spending all the extra time after practice pitching has made us so close,” Toothman said, “and I think to be a good pitching-catching team that’s what you need, and we definitely have it.”

For Postlewait, knowing that day in and day out she’ll have Toothman behind the plate is reassuring.

“I've been really lucky and had a really good relationship with my catchers during my high school career,” Postlewait said, “and it definitely helps having someone you trust backing you up behind the plate.”

Earlier in the season, Toothman caught a Postlewait no-hitter, something the East Fairmont baseball team experienced Thursday night with Jacob Bolander on the mound and Tanner Lambert doing the catching duties. The game helped to solidify a friendship between the two sophomores.

“We gave each other the biggest hug after the game. We took a picture with the ball,” Bolander noted. “He's the one who called it. I get most of the recognition, but it should mostly be the team behind me and the catcher.”

With the game in the books, the fact that the two had to build up their on-field chemistry is well in the past, but Bolander knows now how it’s come full circle.

“At the beginning of the year, I was a little nervous, but now I have full faith in him,” Bolander said of Lambert, who calls most of the pitches for the game. “If he calls it, I accept it. If he thinks it’s going to work, I’m with him on it.”

While Bolander was on the mound Thursday night, Lambert was well aware of the no-hitter his teammate was hurling, knowing he had to play his role in the magic show.

“I pretty much just told him to keep his composure, hit his spots and keep the ball low in the strike zone,” Lambert said. “There were times when he would get wild and I had to go out and get his mind off things, make sure he had his mechanics in check so he could continue to throw strikes and keep the hitters off balance.”

Now, as the two progress during their high school career, they hope to keep the bond strong and hope that they can add many more special outings to their resumes.

While Lambert was able to catch Bolander for the complete game Thursday night, Fairmont Senior’s catcher Gage Hannah catches two to three different pitchers every night, giving him the daunting task of knowing the tendencies of each pitcher and applying that to his repertoire.

“I’ve got to know each pitcher and what they throw and how they like to throw it,” Hannah said. “I’ve also got to know them emotionally and keep their head in the game.

“Some pitchers might like to stay in the zone and me not say anything, but others want me there to support them and get them fired up. As a catcher, I’ve got to keep the pitchers’ heads right and make them feel comfortable.”

As a senior, Hannah is also tasked with being a leader, helping to guide his team to victory from his spot behind the plate.

He sees everything that goes on on the field. He can tell his centerfielder to move to the right a little bit or bring his third baseman in to help field the bunt attempt. When it comes down to it, Hannah shows that the catcher is possibly the most important position on the field.

“Being a senior, I really take pride in being a leader out on the field and helping the younger guys,” the senior catcher said. “Having Johnny (Kesling), Austin (Norman) and Bailey (Mohr) be pitchers really helps. I know those guys better than anyone. They’re my best friends, and it really transfers over to the field.”

But even so, at the end of the day, if the pitcher on the hill is struggling, they’ll always get a calming gesture or a reassuring glove tap from their best friend on the field: their catcher.

Email Matt Welch at mwelch@timeswv.com or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.

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