First of all, and lets get this right out of the way and be crystal clear. My pitch was terrible. Not bad, not pretty good, not "hey man, nice try"- it was terrible. There. I’ve said it. It was a freakish out of body experience and absolutely terrifying and there was a guy and bird and when they…. wait. Let me back up.
If you know me (and by now, I bet you suspect you do) then you’ll know that I’m a planner. I’m not just a planner, I’m a planner who thinks plans are essential and should be followed to the letter. I also think that plans are a great way to manage anxiety, and so I plan things to death to try and get a grip when things are worrying me. This pitch worried me – so I made a plan. I got a ball. (Thanks Ian.) I got someone to teach me how to throw a ball. (Thanks Kim.) I practiced until my arm hurt. (Thanks RachelH. Thanks Joe.) I made a plan to go with all of that. I planned what to wear, how to throw, what to say. I had it all down. Amy (Thanks Amy) said that when she threw out the first pitch she threw to the mascot (a rather large furry blue jay.) I also had it on very good authority that the first pitch isn’t a true pitch…it’s only half the regular distance, which is 9m. These things (and more – for which I had less evidence) all contributed to my plan.
I would wear a skirt and blouse. I would take my knitting with me. (Comfort measures, you understand.) I would throw the ball to the mascot. I would throw it 9 metres. There would be no actual baseball people involved. This was the plan.
When I arrived I was taken deep into the bowels of the Skydome.
I got a pass to go onto the field (!!!) and walked all the way through till I was standing on the side. I could see family/friend shaped blobs up in the stands. I waved. They waved. It all seemed to be going so well. The super kind lady explained to me that at 6:53, the mascot (the aforementioned big furry blue jay) would come over and walk me to my spot. Then I would throw the ball to him, and then I would walk back. "So far, so good" said my inner planner. I stood there, running my checklist.
-Hold the ball tight. Not too loose. A loose grip makes it wail off to the right. -Pick a spot on the receiving glove. A tiny spot. It might not hit the spot, but it’s more likely to hit the glove.
-Take two steps, winding up as I go.
-Release the ball as I come forward on the second step. Let my momentum carry the ball forward.
– Don’t make a total circle with my arm. That throws it into the ground. Cut across the top of the circle.
-Release the ball when my fingers are pointing at the tiny spot on the glove.
-Follow though. But not too much. That’s what Mariah Carey did wrong.
I stood there practicing in my mind. (I hear that visualization is an important part of sport. It’s an important part of knitting too – so I did it.) At some point in the seven years that I stood there, the really nice lady gave me my ball. Not a ball. My Ball.
It looked a lot like the ball my brother gave me, only clean. That was reassuring. I tossed the ball in my hand and waited for 6:53 to come. It did, sort of predictably after 6:52, and that’s when it all started to go wrong. The big crazy Blue Jay came and got me, and we walked to the mound. Just in front of the mound actually, since nobody is allowed on the mound if they’re not a pitcher. This was problem number one. I wasn’t prepared to throw the ball the whole distance. 9m was what I had been told, 9m is what I practiced and I was pretty sure that I didn’t have whatever it took to do anything more than 9m, never mind about 16m to the plate.
I can tell you truthfully, that this is when I lost my hearing. Actually – no. I didn’t lose my hearing, it was just that I couldn’t hear anything except for the roaring of my own blood in my ears. It was deafening. I didn’t say anything or do anything, because I thought the big furry Blue Jay was going to fix it. I thought he was going to say "Hey, don’t worry, I’m not going to go stand at the plate. I’m only going to stand 9m away from you because I know that’s the plan" but that’s not what he said. He didn’t say anything.. because as he left me there and started to walk to the catching place, an actual Blue Jay (Brian Tallet who is, just so you understand me an actual PITCHER) climbed out of the dugout, and started to walk towards the plate.
The actual pitcher (who is a behemoth) smiled at me, waved off the big furry bird, and strode to the place where catchers catch, and pointed in his glove.
It was at this point in the story that I took leave of my actual senses. Too many things had changed. I wasn’t throwing 9m, I wasn’t throwing to the mascot, I couldn’t hear myself think because of the sound that panic makes in your head, and I… well. I don’t know what happened next. There’s a gap in my recollection. I know what didn’t happen. I didn’t run the checklist. I didn’t hold the ball tightly, I didn’t make a circle with the top cut off. I may have taken two steps, I may have taken twelve. I don’t know. I definitely didn’t release with my fingers pointing at him. I didn’t do any of it. The world went black, everything I thought I knew checked out, and all I saw was 15 000 people and one pitcher and huge blue furry bird and I thought something along the lines of "this was a big mistake" and then… then. Oh then.
Then I choked completely and hurled the ball at him (way more than 9m) and the thing shot off. It left my hand and I knew that instant that it wasn’t good. I could feel it. It rolled off of my ring finger and that meant a bad thing. It was bad too.
In all of my practice sessions, I had never thrown a ball that bad. It streaked through space (only really slowly, so I had lots of time to be appalled) and I watched it go. It headed towards him not at all. In slow motion, the pitcher dove for it, throwing his entire 6’6" frame off to the right, but it couldn’t be saved. The ball whizzed by him at least 3m off his side, and he missed and had to chase it. My humiliation was complete. So complete in fact, that as the horror of what I had done swept over me my instincts took over and I tried to do the only reasonable thing.
I watched it go. I thought "bugger this, it’s bloody over" and I TRIED TO LEAVE. I turned and made every attempt to flee the scene. I fixed my eyes on the door I’d come through to get onto that field, and I made for it. Before the pitcher could have the ball in his hand, I had turned on my little birkenstocks and begun nothing short of a tilt towards the exit at a reasonably desperate pace. It was all going pretty well too.. the fleeing, when an enormous furry blue wall sprang up in front of me, and the mascot Blue Jay had me trapped in his wings.
"No, no!" he said "dont’ go yet!" and he herded me over to the pitcher (who’d finished his trek to collect my ball) and the gentleman stood in front of me, took a pen out of nowhere, and signed the ball before he handed it to me. He was so tall that if I had stuck out my tongue it would have been in his navel.
"Sorry" I said
"It wasn’t that bad" he said (which, in my experience, means it was appalling.)
"You’re very tall" I replied.
With that, it was over, and the big bird took me away.
In conclusion, let me tell you this. Whomever is the actual guy in the big furry Blue Jay suit is a very, very kind man. When I was done, and my ball was signed by the behemoth
pitcher and I was ready to just go lie down – he didn’t just walk me back. I said "That was awful." and whoever is in there, stopped. He put his furry wing around me, and he walked me in a circle. "Wave" he said. So I waved.
"Look where you are." said the dude in the suit. "Just look. Almost nobody gets to throw a first pitch." We walked, waving and he looked that furry blue jay suit at me, and he said "It wasn’t awful. It was really cool."
He’s right. Thanks Blue Jay guy. I threw a really awful pitch at a Blue Jays game. It was cool.