As I report on this season’s second successful BCBA night, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 1, 2014, I hope you’ll indulge me as I tell you about a true baseball bucket list experience I accomplished that evening.
Before I tell you about that, though, I must report that, not only did the BCBA group who came out to Oriole Park at Camden Yards enjoy the 60th anniversary T-shirt featured as the giveaway item that night, we even came away with a very gratifying win by our first place Orioles. The Flite Deck was enjoyable as usual. The bistro-style tables allowed for much socializing during the game and the $15 certificates that came with the deal helped make sure our attendees did not suffer from hunger or dehydration.
Spotted in the BCBA contingent at the game were Judge Kathleen Cox, BCBA President McCurdy and, of course, Doris Barnes, leading the emphatic cheers for the home team. The Orioles beat the Seattle Mariners 2-1 in an exciting pitcher’s duel as Wei-Yin Chen lasted 7-1/3 innings on his way to his 12th victory this season. Chen left the game to a standing ovation from the 39,487 fans in attendance.
The crowd also got to witness Andrew Miller’s debut as an Orioles reliever. Miller, a lanky lefthander, came to the Birds from the Red Sox in a trade the day before. Miller pitched 2/3 of an inning in relief, shutting the door on the tough Seattle team.
Now back to the bucket list item I was able to check off on August 1, 2014. I was fortunate enough, based on my activities as a long-time volunteer with the Baltimore Orioles Designated Hitters, to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game that evening.
I was given the August 1 date several months in advance, so I had ample opportunity to contemplate the various ways in which many have botched the ceremonial first pitch in front of tens of thousands of people. I was also aware of the fact that YouTube has forever memorialized many of these shameful first pitch attempts. YouTube compilations of the worst first pitches include well-known entertainers throwing the ball into the ground only 10 feet from the mound, a throw striking an unsuspecting photographer, and many more examples of public embarrassment. First, I resolved to stop viewing the YouTube videos, but I could not stop thinking about a national radio show producer who royally botched his first pitch after obsessing about it for weeks and even consulting with a sports psychologist for advice.
As one whose workouts are largely limited to exercising my imagination and using the remote control regularly, I found it important to practice throwing a distance just under the regulation 60 feet 6 inches from the mound to home plate (they don’t actually let you throw the pitch from the mound). Although my best softball playing days occurred several decades ago, my two “warm-up” sessions the week before the big day went well. My arm didn’t hurt. That was a good sign. I was now ready. Next, I thought about whether I would utilize a Jim Palmer or Luis Tiant-type wind-up. I decided to rule out both after getting some wise advice from former Minnesota Twins pitcher Jim “Mudcat” Grant, whom I had a chance to meet at this year’s Fan Fest prior to the All-Star game. Grant told me, “You try something like that (referring to a Tiant-like approach, which was characterized by the crafty pitcher turning his back to the plate during his wind-up) and you’ll fall on your face.” Okay, nothing fancy, just throw the ball and try not to embarrass myself too much.
Fortunately, I was off from work the day of the first pitch, but I accomplished little that day before coming to the park. My excitement would not allow me to eat dinner. I told my son it would be very unsightly if someone were so worked up about throwing out the first pitch that they lost their lunch on the mound. Not only would I be on every sports show in the nation, the scene would add new meaning to the expression “the Orioles have a new hurler.”
I reported to the park at 6:00 p.m. as instructed, for my 6:51 p.m. first pitch. My guests and I were escorted onto the field, near the Orioles dugout, where I was given my instructions. “Don’t step on the chalk foul line. Don’t just go up there and throw. Wait for your cue. Take a deep breath, then just let it go. “
I stepped on the playing field, only to be slightly distracted by the sight of myself on the huge Jumbotron screen. Orioles’ lefty Brian Matusz took his place behind the plate to receive the pitch, while the Oriole Bird positioned itself behind Matusz, acting as the umpire. I got my cue and slowly lifted my leg, raised my arm, and let it fly. Right over the plate! I was very satisfied and relieved, but I ascended to cloud nine when, after posing for pictures with the Oriole Bird and Brian Matusz, Matusz told me he has caught about 20 first pitches this season and mine was the best. I choose to believe him.
I now have the video and a great memory to share with anyone who has the patience to listen to one of my top all-time baseball experiences. What’s next on my baseball bucket list? Hmmm. Let’s see. I’d like to try my hand as the public address announcer for an inning or two.