Prior to Mike Pelfrey’s first pitch last night your humble correspondent (that’d be me) threw the first pitch at CitiField. Surreal doesn’t begin to describe the experience.
Four hours earlier, I got a call from my ticket guy at CitiField, Stephen. Am I going to the game tonight, he asked? Cool, he got me a copy of the 2010 media guide, I thought. You see, in an attempt to go green, on orders from MLB, the Mets emailed a link to an online PDF file of the media guide instead of sending season ticket holders their annual physical copy. Ecologically correct (they sent out a physical yearbook and a copy of the Mets Magazine/scorecard), perhaps, but I like to have a copy of the Media Guide with me at games.
I told him I was attending the evening’s festivities.
“Would you like to throw out the first pitch tonight?”
I did my best stammering Ralph Kramden, laughed nervously, and rhetorically asked disbelievingly, “Are you serious?” Upon being assured the offer was legitimate, I quickly agreed.
Why me? Ever since the debacle that was 2009, the Mets have tried to mollify season ticket holders like myself, needing to retain their core fan base. One of these mollification tactics is to randomly pick season ticket holders to throw out the first pitch. When I attended last Saturday’s game against Washington, I grumbled about how a two-year season ticket holder got to throw out the first pitch while I, a 25-year season ticket holder, could only watch. Somehow the baseball spirits heard my lament and decided to alleviate my sufferings.
Along with my friend Seiji, I got to CitiField at 6pm. Having not thrown a baseball since I hung up my softball spikes more than a decade ago, I wanted desperately to warm up. I was almost paralyzed by the fear of bouncing the pitch. A Met rep, John, produced a new, slick, white baseball, and Seiji and I adjourned to the section of the parking lot where the Shea infield is laid out. We soft-tossed for a few minutes and I discovered I’d lost whatever modicum of pitching skill I ever had (I was a pretty good softball pitcher in my youth and have a no-hitter to my credit). Plus, because I couldn’t throw with any velocity for fear of breaking Seiji’s ungloved hands, everything I threw sailed right (I could say I couldn’t find my release point, but that’d be pretentious). Now not only was I afraid of bouncing it, but the image of Nuke LaLoosh hitting the Bull Durham mascot with a wild pitch projected itself in my head, accompanied by Bob Uecker’s “Just a biiiit outside!” call from Major League, alternating with the vision of President Obama’s girly-like first pitch on opening day in Washington. In a flurry of emails, several of my fellow TRDMB bloggers helpfully planted the image Baba Booey’s disastrous delivery in my head. Thanks, guys.
After scuffing the ball with several throws off the asphalt and stinging both our bare hands for 10 minutes (Seiji did end up breaking a nail fielding one of my many short-hops, but he bravely managed not to get any blood on the ball so as not to spook me further), I pronounced myself as ready as Kate Winslet was handling the ax after her practice swing in Titanic.
Back inside the stadium, John escorted us under the Delta Club seats out to the field on the clay warning track behind home plate. We watched as the groundskeepers watered the infield and laid out the batter’s boxes and baselines, enjoyed a pre-game performance by several dozen grade schoolers singing “This Land is Your Land,” and the exchanging of the lineup cards at home plate. At one point, Jeff Wilpon walked by, surrounded by a posse. I chattered on nervously with John, Seiji, and Stephen, who had joined us after shepherding the grade schoolers. I was then brought to the front of the Mets dugout by a guy with a headset who gave me instructions for a ritual I’d witnessed dozens of times. He told me I could throw from the rubber or in front of the mound. Not wanting to ruin Pelfrey’s landing spot, I decided to throw from in front. Okay, 60 feet six inches is a LOT farther than you think. I had no intention of making this any more potentially embarrassing than it already was.
Suddenly, I’m jogging out to the field with the real Mets. I skip Ollie-like over the first base line. Out of the corner of my right eye I see my image projected on the center field video display. I hear my name announced over the stadium’s speakers. My consciousness floats above my body, conveniently denying any responsibility for the results. Henry Blanco crouches 50 feet away. “Stewart, it’s your pitch!” the P.A. announcer intones. That’s my cue.
I wind upâ€¦.
Well, watch the video.
Just a bit outside. At least I didn’t Baba Booey it.
Post game, several folks told me that since the Mets won, I should throw out the first pitch every night. Since I know this won’t happen, I readily agreed but silently panicked at the mere contemplation.
Upon returning to my seat, I discovered I could no longer in good conscience yell “Throw strikes!” at Met pitchers. I have a new appreciation for just how hard that is, even from a much shorter distance. (Although if I’d been doing it for years and was paid millions of dollars a year to do it, I might be more motivated.)
Thanks to Stephen and the Mets for a surreal but wonderful experience.