I got the call at 5:31 Monday night.
“Would you like to throw out the first pitch tomorrow night?”
“I don’t think that’s something I can say ‘no’ to,” I replied.
Throwing out the first pitch was never on my radar for the sheer impossibility of it happening to me. But here I was with an opportunity of a lifetime thanks to Northwestern alumni getting the most tickets for BigTen Night.
As a kid, I had one dream. I wanted to be the play-by-play man for the Cubs. I wasn’t particularly good at baseball (as you’ll soon see), so playing for the Cubs wasn’t a future possibility. I watched as many games as I could and read the Sunday paper each week to learn what was going on with my Cubbies. I collected the team’s trading cards each year. Now they are somewhere in my garage. I drew baseball fields on loose sheets of paper, wrote players’ names at each position and noted the batting lineup with stats. I still haven’t quite figured out how to properly keep score.
Nearly anything I read was about baseball. I found a mystery series at the library that chronicled crimes committed at old ballparks. Long before taking any advanced math class or physics, I checked out a book called “The Physics of Baseball” when I was in junior high. If something said “Cubs” or “baseball” on it, I wanted to consume it. That includes the purchase of the official MLB rule book when I was 11 (also buried somewhere in the garage).
It’s surreal reflecting on hearing my name over the PA system and walking onto the field. I attempted to slurp up the experience looking around the confines, seeing myself on the enormous jumbo screen in left center, looking at the historic scoreboard, panning across to the stands, then into the press box before finally looking 60 feet six inches to Rob Zastryzny, my catcher for the day.
For one of the few times in my life, watching the sequence of events in the video did not match my perception of time. My life was in slow motion — even slower than the speed of my throw — as soon as I started walking to the mound.
I stepped over the bright white chalked third baseline on my stride to the mound, like former Cubs pitcher Turk Wendell. I didn’t want to blink. In my lifetime of attending Cubs games, I never had this perspective and may never have it again.
There are a few moments in my life where I can say I was fully absorbed in an experience, where it consumed all my senses. The vibrant green grass, the intoxicating aroma of grilled onions, the low din of 35,000 people chatting, the feel of the slick leather firmly in my right hand. I ascended the gently sloped mound and looked around.
With my feet on the rubber, I gripped the raised stitches of the ball, looked at the glove, kicked up my leg and let it rip.
The throw wasn’t my best, but it didn’t diminish the experience. I met Zastryzny halfway between the mound and home. He said he liked the force I used. With my signed ball, I walked off the field. The sweet usher comforted me by saying it was the best throw he’d seen all year.
What an amazing night! To stand on the mound where Kerry Wood struck out 20, where Greg Maddux did his wizardry, where the Cubs won the World Series. It’s overwhelming to try to process what happened on this field.
The experience was incredible and awakening. I was a kid again! I get set in my schedules of commuting, working, figuring out what to eat, seeing friends and family. But every so often I get a chance to do something I’ve never done before that wakes me up.
Photos from the Cubs Front Office