Too often, celebrities and dignitaries who throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a baseball game fail miserably. The distinction for guests of honor, presidents, celebrities, community leaders or even a contest winner often ends in embarrassment.
If you are ever given this opportunity, please heed this unsolicited and rather obvious advice from an old coach: your throw begins with “T.”
Make It Memorable …
… And Not In a Bad Way
There is no need to name names, but too often these first pitches are either bounced, rolled or just miss the mark completely. There may have been a few that even went backward.
A blooper video on YouTube shows an unsuspecting photographer behind home plate hit in the crotch by a very wild first pitch. There are enough keywords in that sentence to enable someone to look up the video if they want.
Perhaps the atmosphere is intimidating. Maybe the intent is to look awkward. After all, no press is bad press, PT Barnum once noted. Celebrities live in a different spectrum. Few if any accurate first pitches make the news. So, if you want to do a wild windup or are just out there for the social media clicks, do it your way.
However, for those given this opportunity and who do not want to look foolish in the process, I present to you the art of the throw as presented by an old ball coach who even spent time at the instructional T-ball level.
Between juice box distribution and wrangling five-year-olds in pursuit of butterflies, he managed to impart some wise techniques for the aspiring thrower to absorb.
The Art of the Throw
Those who study kinesiology will tell you the overhand throw is unnatural and taxing on the shoulder and elbow. Why, then, do we do it?
That is a question for the ages and not this column. Those throwing out the first pitch must simply keep in mind that theirs is not to reason why, just rear back and let it fly.
Here, according to the old coach, are your throwing steps.
- Stand sideways with your throwing arm toward second base and hold the ball in front of you about belt high like a pitcher working from the set position.
- Grip the ball with four fingers across the seams and with your thumb underneath.
- Make a “T.” That is, point your non-throwing hand at the target and stretch your throwing hand behind you so you are forming a T.
The old coach being a dad known for his dad puns, said: “You can’t spell ‘Throw’ without the ‘T.’” The saying is a learning trick.
Also, note that it doesn’t have to be a block “T.” Cursive is a fine variation. The concept is to spread the arms while focusing on the target
- Simultaneously move your weight to your back foot while maintaining the “T.”
- Step toward your target. Point your foot at your catcher and shift your weight forward.
- Bring the throwing hand through quickly.
- When your hand moves past your head, quickly snap your wrist and release the ball. During release, point your index finger at the target. Make sure you extend your arm completely. This combination ensures adequate force and emphasizes accuracy.
That is it. Now you may take off your hat and nod in acknowledgement of the applause.
Practice this technique several times every day for at least 10 days in advance of your big moment. Adjust your stride and release as needed.
The Dominant Eye Has It
Another cheat code of sorts that may help is to focus your dominant eye on the target. This knowledge is important for billiards, archery and marksmanship, so why not for first pitches?
An optometrist shared the secret of finding this key to accuracy. Extend your arms in front of you. Create a triangular opening between your thumbs and forefingers by placing your hands together at a 45-degree angle. With both eyes open, center this triangular opening on a distant object. Close your left eye.
If the object stays centered, your right eye (the eye that’s open) is your dominant eye. If the object is no longer framed by your hands, then your left eye is your dominant eye.
You may close your non-dominant eye throughout the throw to sharpen focus.
For safety, the coach used to say, make sure your target is looking at you before you throw.
Use every resource to your advantage.
Make It Count
The initial ceremonial first pitch was thrown by President William Howard Taft on Opening Day 1910. The tradition has had its ups and downs since.
Among the best was the great Nolan Ryan, who delivered an 85-mph first-pitch heater at age 63. Well, we all slow down with age.
Others of note include President George W. Bush, who threw what was arguably the most memorable first pitch just weeks after 9/11, and Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, who performed an epic backflip and stuck the landing before throwing her first pitch.
So, if you are someone of status or if you win some sort of contest and get the honor, the old coach hopes you don’t blow it.
One more note: The old coach has never been asked to throw out the first pitch of a game. If he did, he confides, he would do so after making a “T.”
Main Photo Credits: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports