For the past year, John Scukanec has had a motto.
A catch is just a catch, until it’s not. And you never know until you throw the ball.
But on Day 365 of his year of playing catch every day, even Scukanec knew the motto would not apply.
The Washougal resident and diehard Mariners fan found himself Wednesday on the field at T-Mobile Park in Seattle playing catch with Mariners legend and baseball Hall-of-Famer Ken Griffey Jr.
“I really felt like this (project) was not about me,” Scukanec said. “It’s really for me been about the other people. I’ve been able to connect with so many people. Yesterday was probably about me. It was pretty cool.”
The catch with Griffey was set up through a mutual acquaintance, who pitched Scukanec’s goal of playing catch every day for an entire year to the Hall-of-Famer. Griffey liked the idea and agreed to be a participant.
The reaction Scukanec got from his own family nearly a year earlier was much different.
On March 2 of last year, Scukanec was bummed. Major League Baseball had just announced that the 2022 season would not open on time because of the ongoing labor dispute. Looking for something to cheer him up, he tuned into a podcast, “The Baseball Bucket List,” where he heard about Ethan Bryan and his year of playing catch every day in 2018.
Scukanec was intrigued and wondered if he could match Bryan’s accomplishment. So he went home that night and told his family — his wife Heather and his two sons JR and Jackson, then 22 and 17.
“My wife was like ‘Oh, well that’s lovely, dear, whatever,’ ” Scukanec said. “And my kids were even worse. They were like ‘Dad, that’s just dumb.’ ”
But a couple of hours later, he was playing catch with JR in the backyard on a cold and rainy night.
“We played catch for 10 minutes, and it was awesome,” Scukanec said. “And that was Day 1. And then 365 days later, I made it with Ken Griffey Jr., of all people. If you do the math, it doesn’t add up. How you get from A to B?”
His project, which he coined “Catch 365,” started on that night with his older son, continued with his younger son, and then moved on to friends and neighbors.
A couple of weeks later is when his project started to change.
After leaving a deli in Portland where he had lunch with Heather, Scukanec spotted a man eating his lunch at a nearby picnic table. The man was wearing a ball cap.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to start running out of people if I don’t start asking strangers,’ ” Scukanec said.
Scukanec asked the man for a catch. The man said he was a big baseball fan, who had played and coached the game. But he hadn’t picked up a ball in four years since suffering a stroke. He wasn’t sure if he would be able to play catch. Scukanec asked if he’d be willing to try and went to his car to get a spare glove.
“So on a sidewalk by a deli in Portland, I played catch with a stranger,” Scukanec said. “And I threw him the ball and he caught it. And he looked at me and he kind of got emotional. And when we were done, he came over to me and gave me a hug. He said, ‘I didn’t think I’d ever play catch again. But thank you for asking a stranger.’ ”
Scukanec thanked the man for trusting a stranger. Then he and Heather headed home.
“We get in the car, and my wife is in tears,” Scukanec said. “And she looks at me and she says ‘This isn’t about baseball, is it?’ And I said, ‘I don’t think so. I think this is going to become something different.’ ”
For the next 11 months, it has been exactly that. It’s been about making connections with people from all walks of life. Sometimes he’s played catch multiple times a day, sometimes with entire teams or groups.
Scukanec used social media to promote his goal, set up catches and share his experiences.
“It’s been 365 days, playing catch with almost 600 people and hundreds of memorable stories,” he said.
But no story was more meaningful to Scukanec than the impact “this silly thing” had on his own family.
That first night playing catch with his older son was supposed to be a catch with both his sons. But his younger son Jackson had already gone to bed.
While Scukanec played football at Mountain View High School and Washington State, sports never had the same appeal to Jackson.
But when Scukanec got home from work on the second day of Catch 365, Jackson was waiting for him in the backyard with a glove and a ball.
“He looks at me and says ‘Dad, are you still doing that catch thing?’ ” Scukanec said. “And I said, ‘It’s Day 2. I can make it two days.’ That’s how much he thought of this idea. But he asked me to play catch. So I get my glove, and I’m wiping tears, and we play catch. And then he wanted to play again the next day.”
While Scukanec has spent the past 365 days playing catch with different people, he still found time to also play catch with his son for about 300 of those days.
“So he’s 18, thinks his dad is weird, ready to graduate and do his own thing,” Scukanec said. “He’s not a sports kid, and he wants to play catch with me every day? Everything that has happened with this thing is incredible. But that is enough.”
While the Year of Catch 365 has ended, the demand to play catch has not. Scukanec intends to continue to play every day, changing the project’s name to Catch Every Day.
“It was humbling that there were people in the world who didn’t know me but saw my story and thought, ‘I want to play catch with that guy.’ Humbling,” Scukanec said. “And it never dried up for a year. And it still hasn’t stopped. The Griffey thing, that was a huge story. It blew up on social media. I have so many people sending me messages in the last 24 hours who are saying, ‘I don’t care if it’s not part of Catch 365. Please tell me you’re still doing it. I don’t care if it’s not part of the thing. I just want to come play catch.’
“It would be weird to stop. And it would be weird to tell people, ‘Nah, I’m done.’ ”
So for Scukanec, there will be more catches, more connections, more stories.
But Wednesday will be hard to top. And as it has turned out so many times over the past year, that catch also wasn’t just about Scukanec.
Heather and Jackson joined him in Seattle.
“So we’re there and I’m playing catch with Griffey,” Scukanec said. “I said to my son Jackson, ‘Come join. You can say for the rest of your life you played catch with Ken Griffey Jr.’ And my wife was over there taking pictures, and Griffey turns to her and goes, ‘You want to say that, too?’ She’s like ‘OK.’ The next thing I know my wife is playing catch with Ken Griffey Jr.
“How do you beat that day? How do you beat that day? I don’t know that you can.”