On a chilly Wednesday evening last week, a group of catchers from the South Okanagan Minor Baseball Association Tigers were chasing down fly balls.
It looks challenging with the bright lights of McNicoll Park shining down on them. They catch some, while missing or dropping others, but they are focused on doing what Milwaukee Brewers prospect Dustin Houle has asked of them.
“I don’t know how these guys are catching it,” joked Houle, who offered advice on how to track the balls and how to position themselves to catch it. “I wouldn’t want to be doing it.”
“It’s just such an experience it’s crazy,” said Mason Sherburne, 10.
The young catcher never thought he would get the chance to learn the finer points of the catchers position from Houle.
Houle has volunteered his time to work with U13 and U15 catchers in what SOMBA coach James Raymond said is a “very rare and unique opportunity.”
Sherburne has asked Houle several questions. The youngster learned about where he should position his catching arm to avoid injury.
“It’s not a clean position. You usually have to get down and block quite a few balls,” said Sherburne. “You’re going to get some bumps and bruises.”
Dayne Raymond, 12, enjoyed learning from Houle, 22, who just completed his fourth pro season.
“It’s been really fun and nice to learn these new tips. I think it will really help me,” said Raymond.
Among the tips Houle gave the catchers is to keep their catching arm out as well as where to position their glove.
“He’s really clear. It’s really easy to understand,” said Raymond.
Houle has been having fun working with the kids and said he loves the idea of coaching, adding it’s a good time being around the ball park.
“Teaching kids from Penticton means a lot to me,” said Houle, who hit a home run and collected 18 runs batted in with the Brevard County Manatees in the Florida State A Classic League. “It’s just been a good time.”
Houle started working with the kids after connecting with Raymond, who he was introduced to at McNicoll Park. Houle said the players have responded well and remember a lot of information.
“I don’t have to tell them much now. There is obviously the little things I have got to remind them here and there,” he said. “They are sponges. They’ve been good.”
While working with the kids, Houle only wants to see them work hard and have fun.
“These guys are out here early. Just having a good time, throwing the ball around and they seem like they are enjoying it,” he said.
Some of the things that Houle has stressed to them about the catching position is throwing to second base, working on their footwork and seeing them throw the ball with good technique.
“Catching it and stopping it, I’d like to see them have minimal movement when they catch the ball,” said Houle, who threw out 41 base runners last season. “Do whatever you can to get a body part in front of the ball. It’s hard. You have to got be more mental at blocking than physical. It’s game stuff is where you can get better at that.”