First pitch too often an ugly sight
Imagine being the focus of 40,000 sets of eyes, baseball in hand and a target crouched 60-feet-6-inches down slope.
This is the moment of truth for the person ” celebrity or average Joe ” selected to throw out the ceremonial first pitch preceding a major-league ball game.
Unnerving, no doubt. It must be. Just look at the result more often than not. It’s painful to watch.
Take Monday, for example, before the season opener between the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago Cubs. Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory was the honoree, his duty to throw out the first pitch to former Reds star Eric Davis.
The mayor went through an abbreviated motion from the stretch, cocking back his arm and stiffly striding toward home plate.
Then he released the ball.
Hopefully, for the sake of the city, the man’s mayoral skills are more polished than his pitching prowess, as the throw resembled more of a post-touchdown celebration spike than a pitch.
It was as if someone had played a mean joke involving glue or Velcro. Had there been a gopher some 15 to 20 feet up the first baseline, it may have been injured ” though not badly because the ball couldn’t have been traveling much faster than a residential speed limit.
I was embarrassed for him, and the sheepish look on the mayor’s face showed I wasn’t alone. Poor guy. He’ll never live that one down, nor should he. The best he can hope for is a second chance to redeem himself.
This is one of the more extreme cases of errant first pitches. But it’s far from an isolated occurrence.
Even Hall of Famer Juan Marichal, one of the finest pitchers to ever don a San Francisco Giants uniform, delivered about a 50-footer when throwing out a first pitch last season.
I suppose a retired player of his stature has nothing to prove, but still, it seems pride would intervene. After all, he is a pitcher ” always will be. Anything short of throwing a strike should leave a bad taste in his mouth, like a musician hitting a sour note.
Maybe it did bother him, despite the apparent lack of effort. Maybe he wanted that pitch back the moment it left his fingers. Who knows?
What I do know ” because I think about it every time I see a horribly thrown first pitch ” is that if I were out there on that mound with tens of thousands of people watching, I’d fire my best fastball, fully warmed up, full windup, with the intent of creating a resounding, ball-meets-glove pop that echoed through the stadium.
That would be the intent, anyway ” that’s not to say it would happen.
In reality, I’d probably throw out my already mangled right shoulder while delivering a Bull Durham-style wild pitch, sending bystanders scattering.
At least I could say my ceremonial first pitch wasn’t a weenie-armed one-hopper.
Unless they receive a second chance, Mayor Mallory, Marichal and countless others can’t make that claim.
Sylas Wright is the sports editor of the Sierra Sun. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.