By Robert Swallow
Although it doesn’t seem it when you look outside right now, our Buffalo Bisons are scheduled to open the new baseball season at home in less than a month. With the dawn of a new season upon us, I recall how, in the first summer of retirement several years ago, I was able to check something off my bucket list that I didn’t even know was on it.
This story does not involve the Bisons but a team 30 miles down the Thruway.
It all happened on a beautiful summer night in Batavia at a Muckdogs game. For the uninitiated, the Muckdogs are the Class A baseball affiliate of the major league Miami Marlins.
My financial adviser was hosting an event at the game for his clients and I attended with my family. While we and others in our group chowed down on ballpark franks, hamburgers, peanuts, popcorn and Cracker Jack, my adviser approached me with a big surprise. It was only 15 minutes until game time when he said, “Well, Mr. Baseball, how would you like to throw out the first pitch tonight?”
My response was a hearty, “Yes!”
But at 64 years of age, and being a “few” years from my last baseball game, my biggest concern was embarrassing myself by bouncing the ball to home plate. This I had seen done many times by others over the years.
Yes, I had played softball for 40 years and had often pitched, but the distance to home plate in baseball was longer by 11 feet, and there is the overhand versus the underhand throw with two different size balls.
The team’s general manager suggested I throw from in front of the mound, but being a once in a lifetime opportunity for me, on the mound was the only place to be.
I requested a ball and glove so I could take a few warmup tosses with my son. Muckdogs management couldn’t have been nicer. They not only provided a ball and glove, but I was permitted to warm up with the team’s backup catcher.
After my warmup, my big moment arrived and the entourage headed for the mound. I was surprised how many people were included in this process. Beyond myself and the catcher there was the woman who would do an admirable job singing the national anthem, a Boy Scout color guard, the team GM, my financial adviser and two of his grandsons.
As I stood on the mound, I was so nervous that I was barely aware of my introduction on the public address system, despite the fact that the club had asked how I would like to be introduced.
In my mind I briefly debated whether I should try to throw a curveball or throw hard, and then it occurred to me that no matter how hard I threw, at my age it wasn’t going to be very fast. Not bouncing the throw once again took precedence.
Since that night, I have had a lot of fun over the last several years asking people a trivia question.
“What do Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry and I have in common?”
Answer: We both have thrown out the ceremonial first pitch at a Muckdogs baseball game. I still look forward to summer evenings at baseball games and encourage others to enjoy family time by taking in a game or two.
By the way, for the record, I threw a strike on the outside corner.
Robert Swallow, who lives in Alden, had a moment of glory in Batavia.