Phillies prospect Jiwan James recounts his amazing catch

Reading centerfielder Jiwan James climbs the fence, sticking his gloved hand up to make a play. He made the play, all right, a barehanded catch with his right hand.
Reading centerfielder Jiwan James climbs the fence, sticking his gloved hand up to make a play. He made the play, all right, a barehanded catch with his right hand. (RALPH TROUT / Reading Phillies)
Posted: July 19, 2012

When Jiwan James' back thumped against the warning track, he looked to his right. There, he saw the baseball tucked into the palm of his hand. Out of breath and excited from the run and jump that preceded the fall, he tried to swallow as much air as he could.

James, 23, of Williston, Fla., has dreamed of scaling an outfield wall and snagging a would-be home run since he was a child. But until the third inning Saturday, when his double-A Reading Phillies hosted the Bowie Baysox, the centerfielder had never robbed a home run outside of batting practice.

Seconds after securing the barehanded catch, James glanced in both directions. Where did his glove go? Finally, another Reading outfielder informed him: Your leather's not here. It fell on the other side of the wall - the home-run side of the wall.

"Oh shoot," James said.

Amazement was no doubt the reaction of those who watched the play live, and who streamed it on the sports blog Deadspin the following afternoon, and who watched it reach No. 2 on SportsCenter's top plays Sunday night on ESPN.

Because the play unfolded in a minor-league game, fans can only dissect James' catch from two angles, and the available views fail to reveal the secrets of his feat. In the second most popular comment on the YouTube video, a viewer wrote, "WHAT SORT OF SORCERY IS THIS."

While the mystery feels unsatisfying, it also might be the reason the play has drawn so much attention. As of Tuesday afternoon, three days after the play, viewers have clicked on the video more than 208,000 times, many of them trying to figure out how James made the catch.

Here is all the video shows: At the beginning, Baysox second baseman Jonathan Schoop pulls a Mario Hollands pitch deep to left-center field. Then, you see James approaching the warning track. He leaps toward the wall, right leg kicking out front, and sticks his gloved left hand in the air. The crowd gasps, James falls back to earth, and the ball reveals itself in James' right hand. Just like James, the viewer doesn't know at first that the glove vanished.

The day before, Schoop hit a grand slam to left field. So on Saturday, James shaded in that direction, just in case Schoop repeated himself. Off the crack of the bat, James said, he knew he could make a play. Schoop hit a home-run ball, but not one of those convincing, take-your-breath-away bombs.

After James reached his left arm high, he felt the ball smack against the heel of his glove.

"Right there I was [angry]," he said. "I was like, 'Man!' From that point on, I don't really know what happened until I hit the ground."

Here is what James thinks occurred: When the ball hit the heel of his glove, it kicked the glove off and bounced back toward James' body. As he started to fall, the ball landed in his right hand. He squeezed it tight, out of instinct.

James then lifted the ball into the air to show the umpire. His head was bare, his hat lying in the warning track dirt. James took four steps then crumpled to the ground.

His tailbone hurt a little bit, but he said he wasn't injured. He just needed to rest for a couple of seconds. Nevertheless, manager Dusty Wathan and one of the team trainers ran to center field to check. He told them he was OK. They told him he made one of the greatest plays either had ever witnessed.

And when James sat in the trainer's room after the game he heard that the play reached SportsCenter. That's when he knew he did something special.

"You watched SportsCenter all day growing up, seeing the top 10 plays and web gems and all that stuff," he said.

" 'That's going to be me one day' - as a kid, that's stuff you talk about. It came true."

He tried to sleep that night, but at 2 a.m. Sunday his phone erupted: Facebook wall posts, Twitter mentions, text messages. His catch was on the top-10-plays segment. He turned on ESPN, but the show had started over from the beginning.

The play wouldn't be shown again for another hour. James watched anyway.

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