August 14, 2014

Achievement Unlocked: Throwing Out 1st Pitch at an A's Game

Over the last 25 years, I've attended hundreds of +Oakland Athletics games. From 2005 to 2008, +Kristine Gray and I had season tickets that saw us attending as many as 40 games a season. We've seen dramatic home runs, 20-2 blowouts and plenty of controversial calls and tough losses. But before this month, there's one thing I'd never done - stepped onto the field and thrown out the ceremonial first pitch to get the game started. On August 1st, I did, and I'm happy to report it was a quality throw, which will prevent me from being immortalized on YouTube or Sportscenter for all time.

Some of you may have seen my Google+ post on how I got this "Bucket List" opportunity. But if you didn't, I got a surprise phone call at work in late July from +Sunrun CEO Lynn Jurich, who thanked me for my being a good Sunrun customer, and then extended the option to throw out the first pitch at the game on August 1st, where the company was sponsoring that night's fireworks display. After some schedule flexing, I agreed.

In preparing for throwing out the first pitch, one must understand you essentially have one minute of fame, tops, and you only get one pitch, so it had better be a good one. There's no "best two out of three" or do overs. You walk to the mound, throw, and then leave. Not being a regular pitcher from just about 60 feet, I guesstimated the distance in our backyard, and in the week prior, practiced throwing the full length of our backyard, enlisting my kids to act as retrievers, picking up the ball after my pitches, and throwing it back. When the day came to actually do the same in front of what was eventually a sellout crowd of more than 30,000 in Oakland, I was confident I wouldn't make a dramatic mistake.

The game was at 6:35 p.m. that Friday, and I was asked by the A's to be in my seat by 6. At that time, an A's representative would pick me up and escort me to the field. I was given a lanyard that granted me access to the field, and I was awaiting my role by 6:10, standing just off the A's on deck circle. I was given a brand new +MLB ball, and was told that A's relief pitcher Fernando Abad would be playing the role of receiver. As I assumed, and was told, any player in the starting lineup is not going to step in for the ceremony, so it always falls to whomever has nothing to do.

I remarked my biggest concern, beyond making a fool of myself, was possibly injuring the player with an errant toss. My guide said the players were instructed to make the guest pitchers "look good" but not to get hurt. Simple enough. I was also told to throw as if I were playing catch in the backyard, and not to fire it in, as many people end up spiking the grass, not prepared for the ball's descent.

It turns out there were to be two ceremonial first pitches that evening, and I was to go second. As our time came, the first pitcher approached the mound and made his throw, while I stood just off the third base foul line. Then it was my time to stroll up. As I did, despite not being nervous up to that point, I started to be very aware I had a chance to make a mistake. The ball started to feel lighter in my hand, and I didn't want to overgrip or undergrip it, which would send it sailing way beyond my target.

My first pitch, to Abad, courtesy of the A's and G+ Auto Awesome.

Over the loudspeakers, A's public address announcer Dick Callahan introduced me, as representing Sunrun, his familiar voice drawing out the vowels in my name: "Loooouiiissss Graaayyy..." Then he guided along, "Go ahead, Louis." (Catch the video from +Drew Olanoff on Instagram)

I got the nod from the A's guide on the third base line, and fired a strong throw with good velocity. Instead of it being in slow motion, as you might expect, I simply saw the ball hit his mitt, like I'd seen so many thousands of strikes do before. He barely moved. The throw in reality was much better than I'd even had in my head. Over the speakers, Callahan commented, "Nice pitch." Then I got off the mound, and strode quickly toward the third base line, knowing my moment was up.

My pitch, smack in the middle of real and would-be celebs. (via @darth)

Abad, as is customary, came by to sign the ball. There were photos, which I'm told I'll get in a couple weeks. We stayed on the field for the national anthem, and at the song's conclusion, walked past the A's dugout as the players readied for the game, re-entered the stands, and the ceremony was over.

Selfie with +Terrie Gray and two photobombing guests.

When I got back to my seat, I was just me again. Just a fan, sitting with my wife and parents, watching the A's play a game. And despite my nice pitch, they lost 1-0 to the surging +Kansas City Royals. It was a fantastic event, even though they lost, but like any good fan, I'd have traded it for a win. Thanks a ton to Lynn, +Christa Keizer and the Sunrun team for inviting me for an unforgettable experience.