I’m pretty sure my son Grant made history recently, as the first person to ever throw out a ceremonial first pitch with fingers that were stained orange by Doritos.
Normally, the first pitch is an honor for a dignitary or a celebrity (note the box below with highlights of U.S. presidents carrying on the tradition). But on July 17, the Daytona Cubs might have been a bit desperate because they settled for someone whose only claim to fame (so far) was that he had his 8th birthday only three days earlier, on July 14.
Grant was not alone, though. He was joined by Maureen Walsh, the office manager for the Observer. Her birthday was on that very day, July 17, and arrangements were made for her and Grant to throw out a first pitch together because it was also our annual Observer Night at Jackie Robinson Ballpark.
Before the pitch, Grant said he wasn’t nervous, but I know that smile: He was nervous.
“This is the second time I’ve ever been able to hold a Cubs baseball,” he said, alternately clutching the sparkling white ball and tossing it up in the air.
Aside from being able to go out on the field, Grant said the best part was easy access to Cubbie for an autograph.
I have to admit that some of the mystique of the large-headed silent mascot wore off for me as I saw Cubbie lean over to a clipboard-toting young assistant and apparently whisper a request in her ear. She obliged, fixing his sleeves which had ridden up into his armpits.
Then the emcee jabbered on a walkie-talkie, and, as if getting the OK to launch into space, he waved for his brave astronauts to follow him out to the mound. It was to be Grant and Maureen’s finest hour.
Grant threw his pitch first, and landed it with one large hop right to the catcher. Maureen followed with an almost identical pitch. The crowd went wild!
And then the priceless moment: The catcher handed the ball back for keeps, and the look in Grant’s eyes was pure joy and admiration.
The rest of the game was fairly ordinary, with hot dogs and bathroom trips and the sound of the real ball popping into the real catcher’s mit.
“Can I get a Rita?” Grant asked me, referring to a shaved ice treat.
I put him off successfully for the first three innings. “I’m still thinking,” I said. “Actually, I’ll probably be thinking for the next six innings, too.”
Grant peered out at the scoreboard and bobbed his head as he counted the remaining innings. You can’t fool Grant. He yelled at me, “Dad!”
Later he passed around his ball and had other Observer pals sign it. I asked to see the ball and discovered that I had been imagining Cubbie’s name wrong all this time. He signed it “Cubby,” with a y.
“That’s cool,” I said to Grant. “Do you want me to sign it, too?”
He looked down at the ball and shrugged.
“My autograph is worth most of all,” I said. But he wasn’t buying it. Apparently, Dad’s autograph was not cool. That's what happens when you turn 8.
Finally, it was time to leave. Another great time had by all at the ballpark.
You’re invited next time! Look for our ads in the newspaper next summer, and come sit with us for Observer Night. We’ll be the people sitting about 10 rows up behind the dugout on the first-base side, reminiscing about those one-hoppers from the real mound.
BOX: Notable presidential first pitches
1910, William Howard Taft
First presidential first pitch in history.
1921, Warren G. Harding
First time the Washington Senators lost a game with a president throwing out the first pitch.
1940, Franklin D. Roosevelt
Roosevelt's first pitch struck a Washington Post camera. Payback?
1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower
I like Ike, but blue doesn't: Eisenhower's irst pitch struck an umpire’s leg.
1984, Ronald Reagan
First time a ceremonial first pitch was thrown from the pitcher’s mound; previously, it was thrown from the president’s seat in the stands.
2011, George W. Bush
One of the most emotional first pitches, before a World Series game in New York, after 9/11.