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Greg’s First Pitch

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Ah…baseball. America’s favorite pastime. It’s a national tradition that dates back to the 1860s. The MLB is the oldest major sports league in the world, officially founded in 1869 when the first professional team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, was established.

Over the decades baseball has become deeply embedded in American culture. I bet almost everyone can sing the words to the 1908 Tin Pan Alley song “Take Me Out To The Ball Game,” and our common vernacular includes phrases like “he got to first base” or “he really struck out” or “it was a total home run!”

One of the best rituals of our rich baseball heritage is the ceremonial first pitch. The practice of having an honored guest throw out the first pitch dates back to at least 1890. Throwers were often a mayor, governor, or other locally notable individual. 

But the ceremonial first pitch didn’t become an official tradition until April 14, 1910, when President William Howard Taft became the first sitting U.S. president to throw out the pitch on the Opening Day game between the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Athletics.

Originally the ball was thrown from the stands to the catcher or pitcher of the home team, but this changed after Ronald Reagan threw out the first pitch from the mound in 1988. Since then there have been many “famous first pitches,” but I believe one in particular really takes the cake…

In September 1998 the Chicago Cubs faced off against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field. The stakes were high because the Cubs and Giants finished with identical records, forcing a game for the spot in the playoffs.

To maximize positive vibes, Chicago basketball legend Michael Jordan was invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Jordan had just won his sixth NBA championship title with the Bulls a few months prior, so Cubs fans thought he was the perfect choice to bring some “good juju” to their home team.

In addition, Jordan had a short stint in minor league baseball with the White Sox, so naturally everyone thought he would throw a strike right down the pipe to none other than Cubs’ super slugger Sammy Sosa at home plate (filling in as catcher).

Do you remember what happened? Mr. “Air” Jordan may have thrown his first “airball” ever, which sailed at least 10 feet over Sosa’s head! Since then it is jokingly referred to as one of the worst in first pitch history.

Of course, there have been many others who botched the first pitch…Carl Lewis, Bruce Willis, Snoop Dogg, and 50 Cent all make the list. It was just extra surprising that a finely tuned athlete like Michael Jordan would miss it by a mile.

I can tell you who definitely isn’t a finely tuned athlete…me. Nevertheless, I have been invited to throw out the first pitch on Monday, June 13, when our awesome Arizona Diamondbacks take on my other favorite team, the Cincinnati Reds (I was born and raised in Cincinnati. My parents had season tickets every year as long as I can remember). 

As you might suspect, the bets are in. Many are betting I can’t throw a 72 mile an hour fastball. They are undoubtedly right. Others are betting I won’t get the ball to home plate (about 60 feet from the mound). They are definitely wrong. I threw a practice pitch in front of the office last week. Check it out below.

“Right off the bat” I can tell you this fun opportunity “came out of left field.” It may sound “a little off-base” and I know it’s a “hit or miss” situation, but I am going to “go out swinging” either way. 

Now to “cover my bases” in case somebody “throws me a curveball,” I am “going extra innings” in practice and preparation. 

What keeps my nerves from being jangled is I don’t have to “play hardball” with a “heavy hitter” who “steps up to the plate” in “the bottom of the ninth.” 

Will I throw a strike? Join me at Chase Field on Monday, June 13th at 6:30pm to find out.