The email from our promotions department was short and to the point.
“So are you interested in throwing out the first pitch before the game Wednesday night?”
You had me at “So, are you interested?…”
It would happen before the Cards-Rays game as part of our “Christmas in July” promotion with the team.
What kind of self-respecting Cards fan would I be if I turned down an opportunity like this?
But I wanted to play it cool.
“Sure, I think I can make that work.”
Translation: “I’M IN!”
Never having had this opportunity before, an interesting phenomenon occurred leading up to the big night. Delusional as it seems, a part of you actually allows the belief, if only for a fleeting moment, that it’s your night at the ballpark!
That somehow, my throwing out the first pitch is the reason fans will arrive early. I mean, this is the ceremonial first pitch!
Any notion of this was quickly abandoned the night of the game when I was summoned to the field by the Cardinals representative (a very friendly woman named Christine Goodman).
She handed me a brand new baseball.
“You’re number six of seven tonight, OK? You ready?”
I could have been number six of seven hundred people throwing out “first pitches.” None of that mattered to me.
What did matter was that my family would be allowed to come out on the field with me. My oldest son is a huge Cardinals fan and I wanted to give him an experience he could brag to his friends about.
My youngest son on the other hand, seemed underwhelmed by all of the hoopla.
We were on the field now and getting close. I could feel a little wave of nervousness come over me. Nervousness mixed with equal doses of excitement, adrenaline (and a dash of nausea thrown in for good measure.)
I mean, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. What could possibly go wrong?
Wait, don’t answer that.
(BTW, if you’re ever asked to throw out a “first pitch” it’s best to avoid the “Worst First Pitch” videos on YouTube. You don’t want that sort of failure in your head when you hit the mound.)
I had a few goals as the moment approached:
1.)Throw from the top of the pitching mound (many people go about halfway)
2.) No bounces. The pitch must be close enough to the plate so that the catcher (in my case, Cards outfielder Peter Bourjos, who must have viewed catching my pitch as a career highlight I’m sure) wouldn’t have to deal with a short hop.
and most importantly
3.) Don’t do anything dumb. No excessive waving to the crowd or dugouts. No pitching from the stretch. No showboating of any kind. Prancing and props of any kind are discouraged by the team. You don’t want to be that guy! Plus, with seven of us throwing out the first pitch, their goal is to keep things moving along. Like so many things the Cardinals are involved with, they’ve narrowed it down to a science. They know what they’re doing.
Where’s the guy from the radio station? You’re up!
Now, I made it a point to have one of my co-workers try to capture as much video of the “event” as possible. A quick hello to my old radio pal John Ulett , who does a great job as the teams’ public address announcer, and I’m off to the mound!
Well, so much for that plan! I’m guessing he either passed out from excitement or managed to get tangled up with Fredbird.
I barely noticed. I was in the zone now. The only thing I’m thinking at this point is Bourjos better have a catchers glove on. I’m planning on bringing some serious 62 MPH heat!
My first impression upon climbing the mound was that home plate didn’t seem quite as far away as I was told it would look from there. And with the number of people congregating behind home plate, it’s not easy to pick out where the catcher is.
Fredbird called it a strike. That’s good enough for me!
All in all (the awkward, head-scratching hop off the mound notwithstanding) it was a great experience and one I’ll not soon forget.
Most importantly to me, my son seemed impressed and proud, which is the gold standard when you’re the father of an eight year old.
And then, just as quickly as it began, it was over. Not even a minute after my moment of glory on the mound, I was pushing that stroller off the field; just another Dad trying to keep his kids from running off towards the cotton candy cart.
But for that one brief moment on the mound, my thanks to the St. Louis Cardinals.
UPDATE: Here’s the official team video from the Cardinals