Sunday, July 19, 2009

"I Threw A Better First Pitch Than The President of the United States"

Last week, President Obama threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the All-Star Game. It wasn’t a great pitch. It barely made it to home plate. His throwing motion seemed a little tight, an affliction usually generated by nerves. They call it “short-arming” the ball. It’s like “choking” in your armpit.

(By contrast, George W. Bush really had it. Whatever criticisms he may have earned elsewhere, fair people – and this could actually be a test of fairness – would have to acknowledge that “43” was a superior Ceremonial First Pitcher. His delivery was crisp, and his throw was on the money. The man may have missed his calling.)

Which brings us, as this blog inevitably does, to me.

For about fifteen or so years, I was the part owner of an “A” ball – the lowest level – baseball team in South Bend, Indiana. The team was originally called the South Bend White Sox. Later, the “parent” Chicago White Sox sold the team to the Arizona Diamondbacks, at which point the team became known as the South Bend Silverhawks – named after the Studebaker “Silverhawk”, a model of a car they used to manufacture in South Bend, but don’t anymore, though they still have an enjoyable Studebaker museum. I guess that’s what you do when your factory goes away. You put dust on the inventory and you call it a museum.

I don’t remember if I told you this already, so I’ll tell it fast. The first time, I attended a game at South Bend’s Coveleski Stadium (named for Hall of Famer, Stan Coveleski, one of the last “spit ball” pitchers in the Major Leagues), I was stopped as I was coming through the turnstiles. I’d be tabbed as “the three hundred thousandth fan”, or something, which entitled me to a basket full of “goodies”, including the free rotation of my tires at a South Bend auto shop, and a portrait of my family snapped by a South Bend photographer.

General Manager, John Baxter, had selected me, he later reported, because I looked like “a typical South Bend fan.” I urged him to pick someone else, urgently whispering, “I’m an owner!” But he ignored me and I ended up the winner a basket of stuff I couldn’t use, except for the team logoed seat cushion.

I loved being an owner. “Owner” meant I got an “Owner’s Discount” at the Souvenir Stand. “Owner” meant I received tickets redeemable at the “Food Court” for hot dogs and peanuts.

“Owner” meant I was permitted WALK ON THE FIELD!!!


I watched “batting practice” from directly behind the batting cage. I met actual players. (When a ball got loose, I would run it down, and actually toss it back to one.)

I chewed the fat with the various South Bend managers, one of whom was Terry Francona, who would later go on to win two World Series as the manager of the Boston Red Sox. Terry was the most affable baseball person I ever met. You could tell he had a promising future. During our conversation, he invited me to come down after the sixth inning and watch the rest of the game with him from the dugout. My response was highly characteristic:

“I’m not allowed to do that.”

Terry assured me it was okay. So, after the sixth inning, I left my seat – a great one, visiting “owners” always gets great seats – I went downstairs, made my way through the home team’s clubhouse, and stepped into the dugout. There was a chair waiting for me behind the dugout’s protective fence. Right beside the manager’s.

I watched the rest of the game from the dugout, sitting beside (possible, maybe even likely, future Hall of Famer) Terry Francona.

That was really good.

But best of all, was this.

Singer John Fogerty, who was scheduled to throw out the first pitch, had neglected to appear. So John Baxter’s wife, Rita – who does everything – asked me if I’d be willing to take his place. A “pinch pitcher”, as it were.

I, uncharacteristically, said yes.

I’m currently looking at three four-by-six photographs, framed and arranged vertically, immortalizing the historic event. In the top picture, I’m standing on the mound, dressed in jeans and a red sweatshirt with Major Dad emblazoned on it in military-stenciled yellow lettering. Behind me, you can see EARL POMERANTZ!! spelled out in lights on the Coveleski Stadium scoreboard.

Second Picture: I’m standing on the “rubber”, the spot where the real pitchers stand. Many “ceremonials” stand closer, so they won’t embarrass themselves with a pitch that doesn’t make it to the plate. I don’t give that a moment’s consideration. I don’t know why. (Probably a “man” thing.) This picture immortalizes “The Throw.” My form looks impressively professional.

The picture not taken – I believe, because they don’t make film that’s slow enough – was a shot of my “ceremonial first pitch” in flight. Let me say this. I wound up throwing a perfect strike. The catcher didn’t even have to move. On the “down” side, the ball took about twenty minutes to get there. Children were being born in mid-pitch.

The third picture shows the catcher is returning the ball. You know what he said to me?

“You t’rew a helluva pitch.”

And that man was a professional!

I’ll never be president. I wasn’t born here. So I’ll never get to measure my “ceremonial first pitch” prowess against Taft and Roosevelt and Truman and the rest of the gang. But that’s okay. I had the honor once, and in an only slightly less auspicious setting.

Was it the Opening Day? No. Was it an All-Star Game? No. Was it the World Series? No. But I threw out the first pitch at a regular season “A” ball game in South Bend, Indiana. Because John Fogerty didn’t show up.

The most exciting experiences of my life?

It’s definitely in the Top Five.


lumbarp said...

I wouldn't be surprised if the second President Bush was a good pitcher--he was part-owner of a baseball team. He spent time around such things.

Miranda Dennis said...

Maybe President Obama should have practiced on a minor league team! You know, a lot of Presidents make the mistake that they're going to get everything right the first time around, like health care or war or whatever it is Presidents concern themselves with.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, 2nd President Bush had lots of time to work on his pitching during the late 1960's when someone ELSE had to go to Vietnam in HIS place while he played National Guard, courtesy of his father's connections. Commander-In-Chief... more like Coward-In-Chief. But I LOVED your baseball story, Earl. Thanks.
"Anonymous Brian"

angel said...

Wow! Just WOW!

A. Buck Short said...

Obama throws better with a prompTer. I believe I may have seen your photo sequence at the Smithsonian. As I understand it they were trying to photographically determine if, during the pitch, all of your feet were ever in the air at the same time. I once got to announce a youth basketball halftime foul shooting contest during a Celtics game at Boston Garden. Everybody plays their role, including the spectators. Kid finally wins, I say “Congratulations, let’s hear it for this young man.” Crowd responds, even though the kid was no Lebron. I felt like Hitler in Triumph of the Will. They’d do whatever I told them to. Heady.

cjdahl60 said...

I think I speak for most of your readers when I say that we'd like you to post these pictures. And that we're all jealous.

allan r. said...

Loved the line that "it took twenty minutes to get to home plate." But "was a strike"
Great story!!