How A Halo Became THE HEADCOACH: 1 February 28, 2015 08:49

When my son Luca was 5 years old, somewhere deep inside his being, a switch was thrown, and suddenly he went from being kind of a…”cerebral” little fellow, obsessed with puzzles and maps, to a kid fixated on America’s pastime, baseball. The only thing Luca was interested in was baseball. He wanted to play baseball, watch baseball, talk baseball, read baseball… baseball, baseball, baseball. As his father, all I could say to that was Amen!

The joy of baseball – Luca Age 5

The year Luca started kindergarten was a bit of an adjustment. You see, from the time he was 3 years old, he had gone to an all day preschool, from eight in the morning to three in the afternoon. In his new school, for the first four weeks, his day ended at 11:45 am. I work from home, and my wife is a full time teacher and school administrator, so it was my job to pick Luca up, bring him home for lunch, and then try to get back in my office to knock out some work before I had to pick up his brother and sister at three o’clock. Invariably, as soon as Luca would finish his sandwich, I’d hear a rap on my office door, and Luca would poke his head in and say, “Daddy, will you have a catch with me?” As a former athlete and a huge sports nut, I was thrilled that my son had a passion for anything athletic, but baseball has a special place in my heart, so you can imagine how hard it was to say no. I would put my work to the side, grab my glove, and meet Luca in the yard for a catch.

Now, these weren’t your garden variety dad/son throw and catch sessions. These were marathon, wars of attrition, let’s see if we can get Dad’s arm to fall off at the shoulder affairs. Grounders, pop flies, line drives, pitching situations (man on second, two outs, bottom of the ninth kind of stuff…), and they went on and on and on. Don’t want to boast, but for a five-year old kid, Luca could really bring the heat. I loved every minute of those catches, but they lasted way too long. Lost in the moment, I’d finally check my watch and it would be 3 o’clock, time to pick up the other kids, which meant no chance of getting any more work done that day until they were all off to sleep. This really did a number on my productivity. When I expressed my dilemma to my wife Tara, she sympathized, but her idea was to take a hard line approach with Luca and just limit the time we devoted to playing baseball. Fat chance. The kid was obsessed (and I was having too much fun watching my little guy turn into a Roberto Clemente right before my eyes!) We needed to come up with another plan.

Leave it to Mom to solve our dilemma. On a run to pick up the last of the required school supplies, Tara happened to be walking down the sporting goods aisle and spotted the answer we to our problem; a pitchback! For those who don’t know what a pitchback is, it’s basically a rectangular, mini-trampoline that stands upright and at a slight angle. In the middle is a square the approximate size of a baseball strike zone.The beauty of the pitchback is if you throw it just right, the ball bounces directly back to you, no partner (or daddy) needed! Brilliant, I thought. Thank you, Mommy! Luca can have a catch with himself, and I can get back to work.

Ready for some t-ball action!I took the pitchback out of the box and set it up in the front yard where Luca and I had our daily catches. I shared with Luca how I had one of these when I was a kid, and how great it was that he could now have a catch whenever he wanted to, even if I or his brother weren’t around. He gave me this sidelong, skeptical look, not sure if this thing was a suitable throwing partner. So I showed him how it worked, how when you hit it directly in the square, it bounced right back. I showed him how to adjust the angle, so you could get it to “throw” a pop-up or a grounder, and slowly his cynicism turned to amazement, then excitement, then after five minutes, when I finally got tired and gave him his ball back, he couldn’t wait to try! The first few throws were erratic, some high, some low, some not quite finding the target, but when he hit the sweet spot… oh the joy! “You like it?’ I asked. “I love it!”

Great. “I’ll be in my office if you need me.”

But he didn’t need me. He had the pitchback. He’d come home from school, eat his lunch, and run out to play with his new “friend”. After a week or two of no knocks on the office door, I started to miss our catches. I wanted to play ball too, so I finally took matters into my own hands. I grabbed my glove and poked my head out into the yard. “Hey Luca, wanna have a catch… with me?” “Sure Daddy.”

Okay, so there we were, no more than 20 feet apart from one another. I reared back and zipped one to my boy, which he nonchalantly caught like a seasoned veteran. “This kid’s a first ballot hall-o-famer.” I thought to myself. Then, as I stood there waiting for his return throw, the cannon blast from my little howitzer, the strangest thing happened. Try to picture this… Have you ever bought really cheap fireworks, the kind you get at a roadside stand that come in a box with cellophane packaging and has a bunch of different pyrotechnic cylinders with names like The Incinerator or Green Dragon orArmageddon? You take these things out and they look like you could strap one to your backside and fly to the moon. But what always ends up happening, after you anxiously light the thing fearing the loss of multiple digits, then run like your life depends on it covering your ears waiting for the deafening “BOOM”…is nothing. Nothing happens. The thing turns out to be a glorified sparkler, a dud. Well, that’s the throw I got back from Luca, a dud.

I thought, “Maybe he doesn’t want to hurt me, thinks I’m a little rusty, since it’s been a while since our last catch, and he’s been working everyday with the pitchback.” I threw the ball back to him and assured him it was okay to let it fly. He wound up, cocked his rifle and…pffft. Another dud! This time I noticed something different about Luca. He wasn’t throwing the ball to me, he was pushing it at me. I quickly gave the ball back to him and said, “Luca, come on now, reach back and fire one at me.” He looked at me funny, then proceeded to make an equally funny looking throw, where his arm went back fine, but when he went to throw the ball, his elbow bent, his hand dropped down to his ear, and he pushed the thing over to me like he had never seen a baseball before in his life. I was horrified. I thought, “What the… Luca has turned into a little French kid.” I panicked. What happened to my boy, my future big league star? He now threw…LIKE A GIRL! (I mean no disrespect, I assure you. I have six sisters, none of whom throw like a girl. It’s just that some girls AND boys, throw, you know…different.)

Luca, after throwing with the pitchback…ruined!I went over and guided his arm back. I showed him how to get his elbow up higher, and his hand outside his elbow. I put him in the proper arm angle, I physically placed his body into the right position, but every time he went to throw, his arm would drop, his elbow would fold, and his motion would look like he was throwing with the wrong hand. How could this happen? What had changed in the few weeks since we last…the PITCHBACK! Oh no, the pitchback. I quickly put the dreaded contraption back in my place at the other end of the yard and made Luca show me how he played catch with the devil. Immediately, he went to his “new” throwing style, and aimed for the center of the box like he was in a pub shooting darts. “Why are you throwing like that?!” I demanded of my 5 year old. “Because, I have to put it in the strike zone or it doesn’t work.” “Doesn’t work?” “Yeah, it bounces sideways, or goes into the bushes or the street…” Oh jeez. “Sometimes I miss it all together, so if I throw like this, I can hit the box.” “Ok, but I can move. I’m not stuck in the ground with stakes. I can bend and jump and I’m good at catching, so throw me the damn ball! (I didn’t really say that). I stood in front of the pitchback and told Luca to concentrate, think about how he used to throw, before this, this…disaster entered our lives. I could tell he was confused, and frustrated, and not having much fun at all having me back as his catch partner. He gathered himself and made his best attempt to throw me the perfect Nolan Ryan fastball right down the middle, but what came out was a bizarre, floating, meatball of a toss that looked like an out-take from “A League of Their Own” (again, I mean no disrespect). Luca was disappointed, I was flummoxed, and until I could be sure not to inflict any more damage to my kid’s psyche, I thought it would be best to just walk away for a while. “It’s okay buddy, we’ll keep working on it.” “Can I still throw with the pitchba…” “Absolutely not!”

End of Part 1. Be sure to read Part 2 to find out how this amazing product evolved into the incredible game changer it is today.