I first threw the idea out as a joke.
It’s now being thrown back in my face.
Next week, Wednesday to be exact for those of you who wish to pinpoint the moment of my demise, I will throw out the first pitch at a Lexington Legends baseball game.
I think I’m going to throw up.
I first played baseball at age 7, joining the Dukes T-ball team that featured Burt Napier, who was essentially the Andre the Giant of T-ball – a man among boys. Paul Bunyan had his axe (and a big blue ox), John Henry had himself a hammer and Burt had a baseball bat. I’m pretty sure that Burt, who was about the nicest guy you would ever meet despite the fact that he was the size of a grizzly bear, started shaving at age 8, a feat I would match a mere 12 years later.
Armed with Burt (and honestly, doesn’t the name “Burt Napier” just sound like a baseball player), we tore through the league, going undefeated in 16 or so games. I’m pretty sure I didn’t contribute too much. All I remember from that year is wearing orange shirts with dark navy blue jeans (this was before Powell County adopted full uniforms in the youth leagues, something the Dukes helped pioneer the following season).
I also remember playing in the outfield, along with about 20 other kids, none of whom had any real talent. In T-ball, you see, the crappy kids generally get stuck in the outfield since few balls are ever hit past the infield. And when the few balls venture into the outfield’s grass, an overly zealous infielder – usually the shortstop, that bastard – would take it upon himself to run out there to take charge.
But what did I care? We were winning, and I had plenty of dandelions to pick for my mom.
(For the record, my skill levels improved dramatically the next season, as I moved into, ahem, the infield but, alas, not as shortstop.)
I have a long love of baseball, a game that I enjoyed even though I usually wound up injured (the list includes my elbow, foot and knee) and, as the years passed and I got into high school, I found myself on the bench, the 15-year-old’s equivalent of picking flowers in the outfield.
I last played competitively in 1994, joining a team of 16-18-year-olds who ended up making it to the state semifinals. I had fun, but even then, I was an old, injured soul who couldn’t keep up in a young man’s game.
That was 13 years ago.
Since then, I have had two knee surgeries – one major, one minor – along with a host of other maladies that come when a man refuses to realize he’s not a kid anymore. Yet here I am, once again staring down one final shot at glory on a baseball diamond.
I need to start practicing. I don’t want to end up like the Cincinnati mayor, who became a national laughingstock after his Opening Day first pitch landed about 100 nautical miles from its intended target.
Instead, I harbor more than a few hopes that I’ll step to the mound, reach back and fire off a laser to the catcher, who must bite his lip to keep from crying as the pain extends up his forearm after the ball thumps into his mitt. Not quite believing what he sees, he calls for another one, and again I rocket the ball toward home, this time picking up even more acceleration.
Now I have the attention of the Legends’ manager, who saunters over and says, “Hey, Kid, toss another one down there. Show me whatcha got.”
Oh, and I indeed show him, as the ball speeds up near 100 mph, or roughly the same speed at which his jaw drops toward the ground.
Regaining his composure as the rest of the team – and by this time, the general manager and owner have joined the mix, anxious (dare I say desperate) to see this unknown phenom on the mound – the manager says, “Yeah, well let’s see if he can throw a curve.”
And even though I’ve never thrown a successful curveball in my life, somehow (probably through surgical engineering in my rebuilt knee) I manage to drop one in, starting at the head before the bottom falls out to the knees, a complete 12-to-6 curve. Coming just days before the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie opens, my marketing skills kick in, and I dub the pitch a “scurvy.”
The owner signs me immediately (“Can I have a hotdog first?” I ask. “I’m hungry.” “Kid, what you’ll be making, you can have all the hotdogs you want,” he replies.), and the owner shuffles his lineup, penciling me in for the start.
Meanwhile, Disney executives begin pre-production on The Rookie 2, which I pitch as a madcap cross between The Godfather, RoboCop, Rocky IV and Weekend at Bernie’s 2. The movie is a hit, grosses $173 million and wins four Oscars before I develop a horrible Coke habit after having gone years without having had a soft drink.
Switching back to water and iced tea, I rise from the ashes, once again taking to the big leagues as the game’s dominant pitcher, all the while continuing to create hit movie after hit movie. I’m Jerry Bruckheimer with a fastball.
So, you see, there’s a lot of pressure riding on this “throwing out the first pitch” thing. Maybe I should back out. Maybe I should start practicing right away.
Or maybe I should see if Burt Napier wants to take my place.