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Catching A Knuckleball

July 31, 2006
July 31, 2006

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July 31, 2006

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Catching A Knuckleball

By Reported by Matthew Waxman

"I alwaysthought the knuckleball was the easiest pitch to catch. Wait'll it stopsrolling, then go to the backstop and pick it up."  --Bob Uecker, majorleague catcher 1962--67

This is an article from the July 31, 2006 issue Original Layout

•Doug Mirabelli isthe personal catcher for Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, a duty he hasheld since 2001, save for a brief stint with the Padres this year. "I'dnever caught a knuckleball--I'd never even seen a knuckleball," Mirabelli(right) recalls of his first assignment. "I started warming him up andrealized I had no chance. Each inning I'd come back to the dugout and tellScott Hatteberg, the other catcher, 'I don't know if I can do this.' It's notnormal. The pitch doesn't do the same thing every time. Each time I caught aball I realized how lucky I was-- the ball kind of caught me. I don't rememberif we won or lost that game. That's how out of tune you are. Your total focusis: catch the ball. You wouldn't notice if a bomb hits."

•A.J. Hinch,ex--A's catcher, caught Tom Candiotti. "The difficulty wasn't catching it,it was throwing runners out," says Hinch. "Your rhythm is messed up,and your glove is twice the size of a normal glove, so getting the ball out isa challenge. The joy is the guy in the front row giving you a hard time. Youwant to take off your glove, hand it to him and say, 'Give it a try.'"

•Former Red Soxbackstop Josh Bard (above) surrendered four passed balls while catchingWakefield on April 26. Six days later he was dealt to San Diego for Mirabelli."I had been watching film and decided to try some new things on how I setup and caught it," says Bard of the fateful game. "I wanted to improve,so I tried to implement some things Doug had done. That was a bigmistake."

•Chris Bando was abackstop for Candiotti and Phil Niekro in a nine-year career. "Candiottinever knew where it was going; his release point wasn't consistent," saysBando (below right, with Niekro). "I had a kamikaze approach--if I didn'tcatch it, I was going to try to knock it down with my chest protector. I feltmore like a goalie than a catcher."

•Former Astro AlanAshby caught Joe Niekro. "He threw a hard knuckleball--like a butterfly onsteroids," says Ashby. "It was like going to the dentist: The more youdread it, the worse it gets. The first time was bad; the 10th time was worse.If I were young enough to catch, I'd probably work out a tradeelsewhere."

•Bruce Benedictcaught Phil Niekro. "Phil's knuckleball would do anything, especially if hethrew it into a breeze," says Benedict, who had four passed balls in aninning. "I've seen lefthanders swing at what I call 'it' or 'the thing,'and it hit them in the chest. Once, a Cardinals player swung, and the ball wentbehind him. Phil could have pitched every day. I was the one who needed fourdays off."

PHOTOJ. MERIC/WIREIMAGE.COM (BARD)PHOTOGRAY MORTIMORE/GETTY IMAGES (NIEKRO AND BANDO)PHOTOJULIE JACOBSON/AP (HAND)PHOTOCARLETON HALL/WIREIMAGE.COM (MIRABELLI)