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Opening Day

March 31, 2014 | by

first pitch mar 30 2008 kate wellington flickr

George W. Bush throws the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game on March 30, 2008. Photo: Kate Wellington, via Flickr

If there is a baseball team in your area, you may one day be asked to throw out the first pitch. Throwing out the first pitch is a way to recognize someone who is famous or is being honored before the start of a baseball game. —eHow, How to Throw Out the First Pitch

A little after one this afternoon, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, a Red Sox fan, threw the ceremonial first pitch at Citi Field, where the Mets were facing the Washington Nationals. He was surrounded by seven children affected by the recent East Harlem gas explosion. According to the New York Observer, “Mr. de Blasio, wearing a personalized Mets jersey bearing his last name and the number six, stood a few feet in front of the pitcher’s rubber and tossed a strike to a Mets catcher. Still, fans aggressively booed the mayor when his name was announced, not long before he threw the ceremonial pitch.”

Although his poll numbers are bad right now, de Blasio ought not to take this personally. As the New York Times’s Sam Roberts points out, “Mayors are traditionally booed … I can’t remember one who actually was cheered.”

Confirm the time and date you are to throw out the first pitch of a baseball game. You should be given at least a couple weeks to prepare.

It is hard to imagine anything more terrifying for a non-athlete than the pressure of having to get a ball across the plate, even when one is allowed the dubious privilege of moving in closer than the regulation sixty-plus feet. Judging by the images the Times provides—of mayors Mitchel, Bloomberg, and Koch, respectively—most of them have been awful. (By far the best mayoral first pitch on record is that of Fiorello H. La Guardia; in this film of the 1936 Giants–Dodgers opener, the Little Flower demonstrates both zest and good form.)

Set aside a couple days to practice. Get a baseball, a glove and go to a field with a friend. Start off throwing to each other from about seven feet away to loosen up your arm. As you get comfortable, get further and further apart. Limit your first session to about fifty tosses, and don't throw harder than what feels natural. If you go out to practice again, you can increase the number of throws you do the second time.

It has always seemed strange that baseball should be not just the national pastimeas a baseball fan, I get that—but an expected part of our lives. More than most sports, it requires a lot of practice to master even its most basic elements: hitting, pitching, fielding, and a dense thicket of rules. And yet, our public figures are routinely expected to throw the ball—really far, even with the handicap—into its minuscule strike zone, just as writers, lawyers, and accountants are, every spring, encouraged to take up bats and gloves and man our nation’s softball fields. The result is a kind of ritual embarrassment for the many and a source of glory for the proud few. Like the National Anthem itself, baseball depends on a lifetime of exposure to make any sense whatsoever. When we fail, we fail spectacularly.

And yet, the results can be spectacular, with the kind of spectacularness that can only come of hard work, discipline, and knowledge. The Mets opener was scored by a teenage doo-wop a cappella group from New Jersey called the Whiptones, who appear to be as impressive as they are bizarre. They won the Mets Anthem Search in the off-season. They were not booed. 

Remain calm as you walk to the pitching mound to throw out the first pitch. When you are ready to throw the ball, throw it using the same motion that you have practiced. Wave to the crowd as you leave to the mound.

 

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