Upon delivering the ceremonial first pitch at Marlins Ballpark recently, former WCW star Bill Goldberg honored his sport, theatrical though it is, and his wrestling persona, dramatic though it had been, by body-slamming a field-rushing fan and shouting his trademark catch phrase, “Who’s next?”
Who’s next? I’ll tell you who’s next.
Promotions directors for major league teams are notoriously derivative, borrowing stunts and dressing them up as their own, so you can imagine, as can I, that a succession of athletes will soon deliver first pitches in ways that honor their sports as well as their signature styles. Sure, Goldberg’s effort might have been staged; that field-rusher might have been a plant. But the upcoming series of first pitches, as well as their consequences, will be all too real.
Collision at the plate
After revving his engine on the pitcher’s mound, IndyCar racing driver Dario Franchitti proceeds to deliver the fastest first pitch in history, clocked by the stadium’s fast gun at 207.8 mph and by its slow gun at 206.2.
Scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Monday, memorial services for honorary catcher Bob Smith will be open to the public. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to The Foundation For Thinking Things Through.
Generational gap power
To whispers of “Slacker” and “This is a sport?” and “Get a job,” snowboarder Shaun White lands history’s first 2160—that is, six complete revolutions—in delivering the ceremonial first pitch to honorary catcher Wilford Brimley, who, upon caching the ball, mutters, “Get off my lawn.”
On the mound at Wrigley Field, pro bowler Sean Rash delivers an innovative first pitch by rolling the baseball toward 10 pins at home plate. Unfamiliar with the grain of the infield, however, he leaves himself a 7-10 split. Asked by the announcer if he thinks he can pick up the spare, Rash answers, “Probably. I mean, what does Logan Watkins weigh, like 170?”
Poised atop a 60-foot mega ramp, skateboarder Bob Burnquist proceeds to deliver the first pitch by way of an unprecedented series of tricks: first the Del Mar Indy, followed by a Benihana, followed by a Montezuma and capped off by a spectacular McTwist. What he doesn’t set out to do, but what he does in fact do, is deliver the ball while suffering a displaced fracture of the tibia, a bruised sacrum and an embarrassing loss of sponsors.
On the mound at Marlins Park, tennis star Serena Williams delivers a fast but off-target first pitch to an overmatched catcher whose surname ends in “ova” and who speaks clichéd English with remarkable proficiency. At the press conference after the pitch, Williams uses her elbow injury as an excuse by declaring that she doesn’t want to use her elbow injury as an excuse.
A walk in the park
Also invited to throw out the first pitch at Marlins Park, basketball megastar LeBron James takes a jab step off the mound, fakes a jumper, spins to the right and then walks the ball a full 60 feet before slamming it into the mitt.
Number 2, indeed
On Notorious Celebrity Night, the Mariners invite former No. 2 pick and all-time NFL bust Ryan Leaf to throw out the first pitch to an infamous honorary catcher. Why Leaf? Because Leaf just might be the only quarterback capable of overthrowing Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe.
UFC fighter Anderson Silva, still with blood on his knuckles, steps to the mound one night and delivers the most creative (and arguably telekinetic) first pitch in history, by simply staring at the ball until it turns and rolls the other way.
You forgot the batter’s box quinella
In a nod to equestrianism, the Mets invite Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice to deliver the ceremonial toss at Citi Field. Afterward, several not-so-savvy bettors go home broke, having bet on the first pitch to finish second.
Invited to deliver the first pitch at Nationals Park, golfer Jean van de Velde winds up on the mound, twists his body into full torque and heaves the ball into the eighth row behind the right-hand batter’s box. Fortunate to have a lay-up line to the infield, he chooses instead to launch the ball over the netting and toward home plate. Unfortunately, the ball drifts right, ricochets backward off the railings and finally bounces off the first-base dugout and into the surprisingly deep grass of right field.
Upon getting his arm stuck in the grass on his next attempt, Van de Velde watches in horror as the ball dribbles into the drainage track along the right-field wall. The Frenchman then mutters, “Zis really is déjà vu all over again” before removing his shoes, stepping into the track, extracting the ball, dropping it, picking it up and launching it into the first-base dugout.
From there, dejected and defeated, he lobs the ball to within a few feet of home plate. With shoulders hunched and eyes locked in a thousand-yard stare, Van de Velde then trudges from the dugout before picking up the ball and flipping it the few remaining feet to the mitt.
Quick to answer the call, Scottish golfer Paul Lawrie then dashes to the stadium and delivers his first pitch perfectly, to great acclaim and wealth.
Invited to deliver the first pitch on behalf of the Champions Tour, senior golfer Greg Norman is setting up his attempt when, to his dismay, he sees Bob Tway delivering a perfect pitch from the upper mezzanine level.
Chalk it up to age
Also on behalf of the seniors, tennis player John McEnroe is asked to deliver the first pitch at Tampa’s Tropicana Field. Upon taking to the mound he does so, launching a heater down and away. Honorary catcher Patrick McEnroe then calls it a ball, noting that he clearly “saw the chalk fly up.”
Perhaps predictably, John shouts, “You can’t be serious!”
Patrick replies, “I’m not being serious, you putz. I’m kidding around.”
John punches him anyway.
In a huge disappointment to fans hoping to see a new world record, the first pitch of sprinter Usain Bolt speeds along at 106.8 mph for the first 50 feet, then decelerates to a regrettable 63.8 mph in the final 10 feet six inches.
On thin ice
Dressed in a sparkling blue ensemble, figure skater Ashley Wagner takes to the Dodger Stadium mound and launches into her full free-skate routine, including a triple flip, a double Axel-double toe loop, a triple Salchow and a triple loop, before tossing the ball in the midst of a terribly bungled Lutz.
What bugs her later isn’t so much the 3.5 from the Russian judge. (We all saw that one coming, right?) It’s the withering look from Judge Judy, sitting in the first row behind the dugout with a none-too-pleased Judge Mathis.
The shirt off her back
At Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium, Women’s World Cup heroine Brandi Chastain delivers a first pitch for the ages, the ball tracking low and ascendant before slamming into the mitt. The crowd of course goes wild.
Eight hours later, good friend and former teammate Mia Hamm walks out of Manny’s Good-Time Bail Bonds and into the Kansas City Jail, where she bails out her friend following Chastain’s booking for public indecency.
The shirt off his back
The following night, retired superstar and active heartthrob David Beckham delivers an equally fine first pitch, its arc elegant and its aim perfectly true.
In the morning, just hours after a police escort guided Beckham through a throng of adoring fans, the Kansas City Star publishes a front page picture of a shirtless, sweaty Beckham celebrating his first pitch with a sexy fist pump. Later, when ESPN reporters ask about the “double standard,” Beckham shows impressive knowledge by saying that while Manny Machado is sustaining an impressive pace, the record of 67 two-baggers is likely safe.
Equality at last
As expected, Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn agrees to toss out the first pitch, but not before putting on her makeup. As expected, too, Olympic skater Johnny Weir also agrees to a first pitch, but not before putting on his.
In this day and age
As a gesture of international goodwill, the Giants invite the Chinese women’s gymnastic team to throw out the first pitch before a night game at AT&T Park. Citing curfew considerations, the team graciously declines.
One lump or two?
Acknowledging the similarities between the two sports, Major League Baseball makes another goodwill gesture by inviting cricket star Ravindra Jadeja to throw out the first pitch before Game 1 of the World Series.
As it turns out, the goodwill is pretty one-sided. Not only does Jadeja deliver a weirdly spinning bouncer that bruises both the catcher and Ken Rosenthal, he also causes an annoying Game 1 delay by making everyone wait for tea.
Vaulting into unconsciousness, almost
After U.S. Olympic pole vaulter Jenn Suhr delivers the first pitch in Tampa one night, she scolds herself for not having set up a regulation landing pad. She does consider herself lucky, though: After launching so high that she nearly struck the catwalk, which would have resulted in the first dead-ball ruling in first-pitch history, she managed to land on cushy Jose Molina.
You might want to put some ice on that
After the Red Sox invite Boston Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton to throw out the first pitch one night at Fenway Park, they’re surprised to see him deliver a perfect strike . . . to the ribs of honorary catcher Rob Gronkowski.
“Dude, you shouldn’t have worn that mask,” Thornton tells him, just as Gronk starts to rush the mound. “Reminded me of Henrik Lundqvist.”
What the Sox aren’t surprised to see is the first bench-clearing brawl in the first-pitch history. It ends 12 minutes later, when Micky Ward says it ends.
Neigh, we won’t be doing that again
In the aftermath of an ambitious but ultimately regrettable ceremonial effort in Anaheim, Angels pitchers ask owner Arte Moreno to never again issue the first-pitch invitation to polo player Facundo Pieres and his well-fed horse.
It’s called fare
In the spirit of reconciliation, Boston officials invite Rosie Ruiz to throw out the ceremonial pitch at Fenway Park. Afterward, it isn’t so much the two-and-a-half-hour wait that’s so disturbing. It’s the $248 bill for cab fare.
Sailing, sailing away…
On the mound at Rangers Ballpark, America’s Cup legend Dennis Conner aboard his yacht The America is quick to the learn that wind is blowing out.
After Michael Phelps delivers the first pitch at Camden Yards, fans talk less about his slog to the plate than about those sure-to-be-stubborn grass stains.
Not doing the wave
After Kelly Slater takes the mound at the Rogers Centre as part of the Surf ‘n Turf Celebration, Toronto fans are disappointed when, rather that deliver the pitch via shortboard, Slater simply kicks back with the universal remote.
What bothers Bills fans isn’t so much that Scott Norwood absolutely nailed his 47-yard first pitch. No, it’s that he’s still wearing that stupid facemask.
Forgive us, Padre, for we are sinning
When pro beach volleyball player Sara Goller is asked to throw out the first pitch at Petco Park, the bikini-clad athlete finds that for some reason the ball is slathered in grease. Standing on the mound, Goller repeatedly drops the ball. And yet, pledged to her duty, she keeps bending over to pick it up.
In an innovative approach, the Astros invite active pitcher Philip Humber to throw out the ceremonial pitch. When the righty delivers his best fastball, honorary batter Betty White launches it 380 feet down the left-field line.
Strength, but not memory, of an elephant
After taking to the mound at U.S. Cellular Field, American strongman Brian Shaw manages to pull a train engine, a 48-foot yacht, a Cessna 172, a tractor-trailer, a Ford F350 and an M1 Abrams battle tank the full 60 feet six inches to the plate. Upon arrival, however, he realizes that he forgot the ball.
Praise, but not memory, of an effort
Finally, Lance Armstrong agrees to deliver the first pitch at Rangers Ballpark. After securing the ball on his bike, he cycles up and down steep mountains, speeds around dangerous turns and races through the heat and rain, all while putting a sport, a nation and several organizations on his back.
Courageous. Awe-inspiring. The works.
Minutes after he completes the effort, there is no record of it happening.