VANCOUVER, Wash. — Is there anything better than a game of catch on a summer day? John Scukanec certainly does not think so.
“[The] glove, the ball, the sound it makes ... it’s beautiful,” Scukanec said.
As beautiful as it might be, it only partly explains why the husband and father of two is at Vancouver's Esther Short Park on a Tuesday, throwing the ball around with KGW’s Mike Benner.
“What I’ve learned is everyone has a story — and when you play catch it's not about playing catch, but you let your guard down and you talk to people and the stories come out, and sometimes the stories are remarkable,” Scukanec said.
That yearning for connection is ultimately why Scukanec is attempting what many will consider something truly out of left field — a game of catch with somebody new every day for 365 days.
“It was March 2,” Scukanec said. “The day they canceled the start of the baseball season because of the lockout.”
That is when the lifelong Mariners fan kicked off his year-long endeavor. In fact, Scukanec vividly remembers sharing the idea with his wife and boys.
“'Guess what I'm going to do,' and my wife is like, 'That's nice dear, whatever,'” Scukanec said. “And my sons are like, 'This is stupid, another dumb thing Dad’s doing.'”
All the skepticism vanished a few weeks later. Scukanec and his wife were at a Southeast Portland restaurant. Scukanec had yet to play catch that day, but then he spotted a man eating alone.
“He's wearing a ball cap so I said, 'Hey this will sound weird,' but explained what I was doing and he gets this look on his face and he says, 'I love baseball, coached my kids, used to play, but I had a massive stroke four years ago and I haven't picked up a ball since and I don't know if I can,'” Scukanec explained. “I said, 'Are you willing to try,' and he said, 'Do you have a glove,' and I said, 'Yeah I carry it in the car.'”
Scukanec and the man played catch for five to 10 minutes. Scukanec recalls his throwing partner smiling ear to ear and saying how he never thought he would play catch again.
“He comes over and gives me a hug and says, 'Thank you for asking a stranger to play catch,' and I said, 'Thank you for trusting a stranger to play catch,' and he said, 'Whatever you do, make it 365 — the world needs this.'”
The dozens of people who have shared a catch with Scukanec over the last several months would agree. Among them are a sandwich delivery guy, a baseball coach in Oregon City, and former Major League Baseball pitcher Jamie Moyer.
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“It's been so encouraging to me,” Ethan Bryan said.
Bryan understands more than anybody what Scukanec is doing. Bryan, of Springfield, Missouri, played catch every day for a year back in 2018. He even authored a book about the experience, "A Year of Playing Catch."
“The further I get from it the more I am able to reflect on it and the more I learn how important play is to us,” Bryan said. “Not only physically but emotionally and mentally. What I'm taking away from it still is we live in a play-deprived culture where we've forgotten how to trust one another.”
Bryan is Scukanec’s inspiration. The two are hoping to connect for a game of catch in the coming months. Until then, people a little closer to home will have to do. Take for instance Mike Benner, Scukanec’s throwing partner on day 140 of a 365-day mission.
“It's just a catch until it's not,” Scukanec said. “Some days we're just playing catch and some days it's more than that, and the cool thing is you never know until you ask someone to play catch and then you find out.”
If you would like to follow Scukanec’s journey, or maybe even play catch with him, you can contact him on Twitter. His handle is @jscukanec.