Last week I had the opportunity to throw out the first pitch before a Long Island Ducks game against the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. The game was played at the Ducks’ home field, the Fairfield Properties Ballpark in Central Islip. The Ducks played well, and won 9-2.
A normal person reading this might say, that’s nice, but no big deal. Real baseball fans, however, don’t fit the definition of normal. For one thing, they never really grow up, and being on a professional baseball field, even just to throw one pitch before the game has even begun, is for many a childhood dream.
But living this dream includes living through and overcoming incredible tension and fear of failure. This is especially true if you happen to be a politician who knows that no matter how beloved you think you might be, there are thousands of fans just waiting to see you suffer the ignominious fate of bouncing the pitch before it crosses home plate and settles into the catcher’s mitt. I know of several otherwise courageous politicians who will never accept the offer (or challenge) to throw out the first pitch. Or if they do develop some nerve, they throw the ball from well in front of the rubber, which, of course, is atop the pitcher’s mound, 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate.
To me, that shortened version doesn’t count as a real first pitch, so I always summoned the courage — more than I ever needed to deliver a major speech on the floor of Congress — to pitch from the rubber, and always succeeded, except for the one time, which I will never forget and always regret, when the ball faded away at the last instant and drifted off at the front of the batter’s box, forcing the catcher to make what looked like a hockey goalie’s acrobatic save.
Last week’s first pitch was particularly stressful. I had been successfully operated on for stomach cancer less than five weeks before, during which part of my stomach was removed and I was left with a 9-inch-long incision that had to heal. The surgeon, who probably considered referring me to a psychiatrist, consented to my first-pitch antics if I threw it “softly” from in front of the mound. Reluctantly I agreed to those terms and conditions. Walking to the mound, I felt more tension than when I was being wheeled into the operating room.