Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"The First Pitch"

In honor of baseball’s Opening Day.

Paraphrasing a perennial Passover ditty:

If I’d been invited to be part (a one forty-secondth) owner of a minor league baseball team…

It would have been enough for me.

And if that team was just thirty-five miles from our cabin, so I could easily attend games when we were visiting Indiana (in contrast to the Erie Sea Wolves, of which I was also part owner, and never visited)…

It would have been enough for me.

And if, at games, they treated my family and myself like actual owners, leaving free, box seat tickets at Will Call, providing access to the playing field before the games, vouchers from free food at the concession stands, and “Owners’ Discounts” for t-shirts, baseball bat key chains and Official South Bend (as they were then called) White Sox baseball caps…

It would have been...

Oh, and the free, “Reserved Area” parking…

It would have been enough for me.

Bu then there was this. And herein, my cup truly doth runneth over.

Singer John Fogerty (of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and more importantly in this context, the writer of the near baseball anthem, “Put Me In, Coach”) was scheduled to throw out the first pitch at the game we were attending, the South Bend White Sox taking on the Madison Mallards.

I was looking forward to hanging out with Fogerty – another privilege of part ownership. (By the way, I was told I was the only part owner who ever showed up. For everyone else, this was merely an investment. And, as it turned out, a surprisingly profitable one.)

Just before game time, it was learned that John Fogerty was not going to make it. In a spot, the resilient team General Manager turned to the most celebrated available option to toss out the ceremonial first pitch, the creator of Major Dad and a one forty-secondth owner of the local ball club…


If they hadn’t, as mentioned, it would have been enough for me. So you can imagine how it felt when they did.

I am not a ballplayer. But I play one in my head. As a kid, dreading the lethal law firm of “Ridicule, Embarrassment and Shame”, I restricted my activities to baseball games I would participate in alone, no easy task – baseball being a team game – but I devised a fantasy game, wherein, hour after hour, I would fling a ball against our next door neighbors’ – the Teplitzkys – brick wall, and as it came flying back, I would make stabbing, “game-saving” catches, accompanied by a running play-by-play, trumpeting my spectacular achievements.

If there were a Hall of Fame for ballplayers who played baseball alone, I might well have been inducted. Not on the first ballot, perhaps. But eventually. I was really good.

This, however, was – you should pardon the expression – a whole different ball game.

There I was, being escorted by a pony-tailed cheerleader out to the mound on an actual professional baseball field, dressed in sneakers, light-colored blue jeans, a Major Dad sweatshirt, and a fitted, team baseball cap, behind me, my name, prominently illuminated on the scoreboard.

The Coveleski Stadium announcer intones,

“And now, to throw out our ceremonial first pitch, please give a warm South Bend White Sox welcome to the Emmy Award-winning writer and the creator of Major Dad

Earl Pomerantz!

A smattering of applause from the sparse Midwestern crowd, maybe one in three putting their hands together, the others talking (this was before texting), filling out their scorecards, or standing in line for beer.

I barely noticed. At that moment, I was somewhere else – the place where athletes go, where, oblivious to the externals, they lock into the tunnel vision concentration necessary for the formidable task at hand. I was unequivocally “in the zone.”

Otherwise, I’d be urinating in my Levis.

What was I thinking when I said “Yes”? I knew how I was thinking. Not clearly. I was in no condition to do this. The last time I had comfortably thrown a baseball was against the Teplitzkys’ brick wall.

And I was ten!

I had thought of asking the White Sox manager if he would ask one of his players to warm me up, but that would mean speaking a manager, asking a “team owner”-type favor, and inconveniencing a ballplayer, so I didn’t do that, opting instead for a possible lifetime of orthopedic intervention.

I was offered one last “out”, my cheerleader-escort indicating a spot about half way between home plate and the mound, where ceremonial first pitches were often released. I disdainfully rejected the offer. I was headed for the “rubber”, the spot where the real pitchers threw the ball.

I am standing on the mound, which, true to its name, feels – because it is – higher than the rest of the field. I am excited, not nervous, though I should be, since I was trying something for the first time with absolutely no idea if I could do it.

And there were people watching!

I guess, sometimes, I’m just crazy.

The catcher goes into his crouch behind the plate. I stare down at him. I don’t see great, but I can see a catcher. Even in a crouch.

The catcher puts up his mitt as a target. I focus, laser-like, on that glove. The great pitchers say they do that. “I just focus on the catcher’s glove.” Who am I to disagree?

Okay. No more stalling. (DEEP BREATH)

It’s “Go Time.”

I deliberately begin my windup. And I let the ball fly.

I say “fly”, if by “fly” you mean “passing through the air”, rather than rolling along the ground. Otherwise, the ball did not “fly.” It floated. Very slowly. A bird could have built a nest on that ball, as it made its way to home plate.

But it hit the catcher’s mitt.



I had thrown a perfect strike.

That took ten seconds to get there.

As is traditional, the catcher trotted out to the mound, to present me with the ball. I will never forget his accompanying words as he placed it in my hand.

“You t’rew a helluva pitch.”

The proudest moment of my life?

I’ve had others.

But it is definitely “Top Five.”


Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; you took part of something you love. I felt your elation reading your report. Being second choice after John Fogerty (and who's to say you weren't?) must have been grand as well.

Thank you for this wonderful anecdote,


Sean Pujols said...

A-men,'s time to play ball!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!