A Year Of Playing Catch

by Ethan Bryan

I am relatively art illiterate. I know the Mona Lisa and Monet’s Water Lilies and Warhol’s soup cans, though I’m not sure exactly why the soup cans are considered art.

words + photographs ETHAN BRYAN

I know A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte as the pointillism picture featured in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and The Last Supper in The DaVinci Code. I know Michelangelo’s David and the Sistine Chapel and Bob Ross, whose painting was once featured on a Daytona Tortugas jersey. But I’ve learned that art is so much more than famous pieces decorating museum walls and the occasional baseball jersey. Art is a form of communication, a wonderful way of opening up and expressing oneself through a created work. The whole point of art is to make a connection with someone, to make them feel something, and the first time I saw Brett Kesinger’s art, I was floored. Brett taught me how to see art, how to experience and enjoy it.  

For ten years, I was a youth minister in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Brett was one of the cadres of faithful adult volunteers who helped me figure out what youth ministry in the twenty-first century looks like. One Sunday after church, he and his wife accompanied my family for lunch. Sitting at Jason’s Deli and enjoying chocolate ice cream, Brett made a sketch with crayons on a napkin while we were talking about the Royals. That sketch is better than anything I’ve ever attempted to draw. A few weeks later, he came by my house and pulled up his collegiate portfolio on my computer. I was stunned. I savored his creations. I was in complete and utter awe of his designs. There were days I scrolled through his handiwork and just breathed. His art stirred hope in me.  

My daughter Sophie is an artist. She started drawing when her hair was ringlet-curly and her smile was dominated by puffy cheeks. She gripped pencils and markers and crayons with her whole hand, a fist filled with creative intent, studying her subjects as she drew them. I know I am biased, but her drawings always have connected with me just like Brett’s do. I was visiting with an artist friend, showing off the latest of Sophie’s creations. The friend told me, “I can tell she’s exploring techniques she’s never been taught. Your job as a parent is to make certain she is always creating, to keep her exploring. Her art makes an incredible statement.”  

As a birthday gift, Sophie was given her first charcoal set and used it to create a piece symbolizing Catch 365. It was while I was studying her drawing that I realized that playing catch is living art.  

Catch is a dance of connection and conversation and creativity between two partners. Everyone starts by imitating the greats and growing into their own style, feeling their way to express themselves through the strengths and limitations of their bodies. Catch is not just the basis for baseball, it is its own form of communication. Words don’t need to be spoken.  

And then I realized that all forms of play are living art.  

Read more from author Ethan Bryan

It seems to me that play is an audacious act of hope. In a world that is driven by the bottom line and uber-efficiency, play loudly challenges everyone not to take themselves so seriously. Play breathes into our broken world and extends an invitation to join the present beauty. Play creates margin in the midst of the mundane, offering fresh perspectives and insight in exchange for an investment of time. Like art, like music, like love, play is a beautiful and exhausting act of hope. May we have the courage to live our lives as play-filled masterpieces.  

Excerpt of Chapter 6 from A Year of Playing Catch posted with permission from author.