By Kostya Kennedy
May 07, 2009

Ever play baseball? At any level? I mean even Little League, even T-ball? Then you can answer this question: What's the safest and surest way to catch a fly ball?

"I was always taught to use two hands," said Mets right fielder Ryan Church, shortly before the Mets beat the Phillies 1-0 at Citi Field on Wednesday night. "I mean, if you have to reach for it well that's one thing, but if you're there waiting for it, then yeah, sure, two hands."

This is a sensitive topic in the Mets clubhouse these days a) because the team lost a game earlier this season after Daniel Murphy dropped a routine fly ball that he'd tried to one-hand in left field and b) because just the night before, on Tuesday in Atlanta, Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado, using the same Murphy-ian method, had almost single-handedly blown a ninth-inning lead when he botched a two-out pop-up.

"I'm not sure why some guys use only one hand," said Church who admits that he does it himself sometimes. "Maybe it's because it's more relaxing. You're not standing there so tense, with both hands up ... ?"

Uh-uh. Not buying it. "The reason guys catch with one hand is because it looks cool," said Phillies outfielder Matt Stairs, a part-timer who understands full well that his best fielding position is pinch-hitter. "That's the whole point of this game, remember, you've got to look good out there."

Stairs is kidding. Kind of.

There have long been guys who have caught the ball one-handed -- and I'm looking beyond Pete Gray here -- and some of the game's great fielders have relied upon decidedly non-traditional approaches in favor of that fuddy-duddy, two-hand-up, make-sure-to-squeeze-the-ball concept.

Willie Mays made his basket catch in center field. (Did he ever!) And so did a slightly less iconic center fielder, the Mets' late 70s sex symbol Lee Mazzilli who'd corral the ball waist-high with a nonchalance that added tremendously to his cool quotient; kind of like The Fonz starting a juke box with the side of his fist.

Another Willie, first baseman Montanez, used to snap his glove hard at the ball when fielding pop-ups, attacking the poor things as it were. Rickey and Barry made their famous snatch catches, and of course there was Devon White, the Blue Jays gold-glover. He used two hands most of the time, but he'd catch the ball at belly-button height. Now that really looked wicked.

Of course, as rad as those kind of catches can be -- Mets manager Jerry Manuel might call White's fielding style "gangsta" -- nothing looks quite so silly as actually dropping a ball that most, say, Division III college players, would put away two hands at a time. When Delgado snagged a Jimmy Rollins pop-up in the fifth inning on Wednesday (yep, he used both hands this time), the crowd unleashed the same lusty, ironic cheer that it had bestowed upon Murphy during the game after his blunder in April. Never mind that dropping a routine ball can cost a team a game, the truly serious matter is that it will make you look foolish.

"I wouldn't risk it," said Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino, and Stairs agrees: "Me, I'd use three hands if I had them."

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