Evanson column: Piece of cake? Throwing out a first pitch is far from it
It's not easy.
Life? Sure, experience along with an age-old adage tells us that.
Work? Of course it isn't, it's synonymous with labor, toil, slog and drudgery.
Relationships? Puhleez, we're talking about human behavior, and we all know there's nothing easy or predictable about that.
No, I'm talking about throwing a ceremonial first pitch in front of thousands of people — the bulk of whom are ultimately more interested in watching you fail than succeed.
I did that last week. The Hillsboro Hops were nice enough to extend me an invitation to do so as part of their first pitch contest consisting of local television, radio and print media personalities in and around the Portland metropolitan area. Upon receiving my invitation, I had a number of reactions ranging from "cool" to "oh s**t." Throughout my time in ballparks covering and simply watching games, I'd often thought about how fun and entertaining it would be to let one rip from a professional mound, on a professional field, but until actually faced with the prospect of doing so, rarely did the potential anxiety involved cross my mind.
I played 10 years of baseball growing up, in a handful of softball leagues as an adult — and even at an advanced age consider myself to be relatively athletic. Having said that, I haven't thrown a baseball more than a mitt-full of times in recent years, from a mound in likely 30 years, and never in front of a stadium full of people more than ready to laugh at an ill-fated attempt.
These things can go bad.
In recent years, celebrities like Bruce Willis, Snoop Dogg and Fifty Cent's throws have been forever etched in the proverbial "first pitch wall of shame." In addition, world famous athletes the likes of track and field star Carl Lewis, the Washington Wizards' John Wall, Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson and even the great Michael Jordan have — at least temporarily — humiliated themselves with throws in the dirt, over the catcher's head and even off of a cameraman's lens. So if they can miss badly, certainly a local newspaper sports editor many moons beyond his athletic prime could do the same.
Knowing that, I put myself on an action plan. Every day in the two weeks leading up to my pitch, I'd throw. Eventually I'd throw from a mound. My shoulder would be loose, relatively strong and, come the day of reckoning, I'd be nothing shy of a well-oiled pitching machine.
That didn't happen. Instead, I went on vacation, lightly tossed a ball with my girlfriend on a few occasions— and as the clock ticked ever closer to "D-Day," felt more like a lamb being led to slaughter than a soldier marching on to victory.
It should be easy, right? Sixty-feet-six inches — that's how far it is from the pitching rubber to the rear point of home plate. I'd done it thousands of times as a kid, and in fact was pretty good at it. But now, with little practice, a middle-aged arm and with the black cloud of potential public humiliation hovering above my head, fear was taking hold.
I threw the same night as KGW's Orlando Sanchez. At the stadium, they allowed us a few throws in the cage beneath the grandstands, gave us our instructions and then led us to the field where we'd be announced one at a time. I was first, and as I walked toward the mound amidst a brief introduction, I heard little beyond the thoughts in my head, most of which were not of the haves, but rather of the have-nots. I wasn't focused on President George W. Bush, who famously nailed his first pitch at the World Series following 9/11, but more so Willis, Wall and Jordan, who will forever go down in Internet infamy for letting their ball go astray.
I took little time. When I got the signal to go, I went. Wind, plant, throw, and the ball was out. A little high and a titch inside. While not all that impressive, it was acceptable, but more importantly — over.
A feeling of relief swept over me like a cool breeze on a 100-degree day. I walked back to the dugout, gathered my things and headed for the stands. I was excited to have it over with, but also wanted another shot. With one attempt under my belt, I quickly aspired to graduate from the safety of a smooth delivery to a real crack at the strike zone with some real mustard on it.
Easier said than done.
Ultimately I was happy with my effort, but happier with the experience. It was fun, nerve-wracking to say the least, and certainly something I'll never forget. But it wasn't easy — in any way, shape or form.
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