Barack Obama and I once had something in common, other than that we are both southpaws. In the summer of 2009, we both threw the first pitch at a professional baseball game. Obama’s toss came at a trivial affair, the Major League All-Star game. Mine was at a much more meaningful event as the hometown team, then known as the Zephyrs, tried to avoid falling deeper into last place by taking on the Iowa Cubs. This game, which was also designated as New Orleans Magazine Night, had a true sense of purpose.
There is no grander male physical gesture than grasping an object and throwing it. The feeling is certainly linked to the first Neanderthal man who hurled a stone at a saber tooth tiger, or at another Neanderthal. Earlier that day, I rekindled that feeling as I stood in the center of a ball diamond at City Park taking a few practice tosses. (I would have gotten further with my warm up had I had someone to catch the ball at the other end. Having to go pick up the ball and walk back to the pitcher's mound got tiring fast.)
When I reported in to deliver my pitch at Zephyrs stadium I was surprised that I first had to sign a waiver. The form contained boring paragraphs of legal stuff that no one would bother to read, especially at a ballpark. I tried to take a short cut by asking what exactly might happen that necessitated signing a waiver. "There’s a lot of activity on the field," someone said. I reasoned instead that the Zephyrs feared that my pitch might cause a shoulder injury. To the contrary, hurting a shoulder while tossing a first pitch at a professional baseball game would be a badge of honor for which I would have thanked the Zephyrs rather than sue them.
Sarah, a former Renaissance Publishing staff member and Seattle native, once told me that her dad threw out a first pitch at a Seattle Mariner’s game. It was Lou Gehrig day, Sarah explained, and her dad had done some research on the dreaded, so called, Lou Gehrig’s disease. So, Sarah’s dad had made his first pitch debut in the big leagues, while I was still at the Triple-A level. Of course, what he had done to get there was more important than anything I had done lately.
When I was escorted to the field I was told that former Zephyr Kirk Bullinger would also toss out a first pitch. I was only half-kidding when I asked if it was logically possible to have two first pitches. I decided to end my query when I was told that my first pitch would be first, which, to my reasoning, was really a first pitch.
My name echoed as I was called to the mound. Dave Matranaga, a Zephyr infielder, assumed the catcher’s position behind the plate. There I stood in a professional ballpark going through a wind-up. The Neanderthal in me was ready to fling…
For this paragraph, I had prepared myself to make a joke by saying something like my pitch would have been a strike had the batter been ten feet tall or had home place been positioned two yards to the left. To my surprise, no joke is needed. The ball flew perfectly over home plate at a height that any umpire would have recognized as a strike. I was so stunned I even ran up to Matranga as though I had just thrown a no-hitter. I wanted confirmation. “Wasn’t that a strike?” “Yes,” he assured me. After the ceremony I was given the ball, which was signed by Matranga. With the setting sun, the moon made its appearance over Zephyr stadium. Like Apollo 11, my autographed ball’s one flight had been flawless.
As I walked back into the stands I was expecting the accolades of the fans, but then I realized the experience was more like making a hole-in-one playing Putt-Putt. You look around to see if anyone noticed, but no one really did.
I watched the game while celebrating my own private glory as the triumphant baseball bulged in my pocket.
By the way, Obama’s pitch was high and wide, not that I noticed or anything.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
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