The ceremonial first pitch is a baseball tradition. Those who are given the opportunity are generally celebrities, local heroes, big supporters of the team, charity representatives, or people that have won contests. On August 17, I was joined the list when I tossed the first pitch at Fenway Park before the Boston Red Sox faced the Cleveland Indians.
I was humbled and honored to throw out the first pitch as the winner of the Jimmy Fund Big Idea Contest. The Jimmy Fund sponsored a national contest to search for an idea that would generate awareness and funds to fight cancer. My idea was "Jokes For Jimmy: Laughter is the Best Medicine.” It’s a social media campaign where kids and adults can videotape themselves telling a joke and pledging to make a donation to the Jimmy Fund, then they’d post the video on Facebook and tag friends. It's similar to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, but without the ice. The idea is that we have to fight cancer with positivity, creativity, care, and laughter. I will help the Jimmy Fund launch the idea in 2016, and hope that everyone will participate!
The chance to throw out the first pitch was a fun and exciting prize. What made it even more special was that my family and friends came out to support me. My cousins traveled to Boston from Cleveland for the game. My Little League baseball teammates were there, too. They all gave me advice, but the overall sentiment was simply to try my best.
Leading up to the game, I practiced pitching from the Little League mound which is 46 feet. I knew it would be harder at Fenway where the distance between the mound and home plate is 60 feet 6 inches. I worked on my fastball and change-up. Dreaming of bedazzling the Red Sox into drafting me onto the pitching rotation, I decided that I would throw my fastball.
Many people do not realize how much work it takes to organize the pre-game ceremonies. There are several parts: introduction of honored guests, honorary bat boys, national anthem singer, person who yells "Play Ball," and the one who throws the first pitch. Sometimes there is more than one person who throws a ceremonial pitch. In my case, there was a woman who threw a pitch before me. She had attended 33 consecutive Opening Day games.
When it was my turn, a Red Sox representative led me onto the field. Along the way, Wally The Green Monster, the Red Sox mascot, gave me a high five. I heard my name being announced on the loudspeaker and I looked up to see myself on the Jumbotron. It was spectacular looking out at the stadium and all the fans eagerly awaiting the game to begin. As I stood on the pitcher's mound, I was aware of all the awesomeness of the great people and great players that had stood before me.
I held the baseball in my hands, took my windup, and pitched the ball. Admittedly, the ball bounced just short of home plate, but still made it into the glove of Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart. He caught the ball, and met me at the mound to shake my hand. The crowd applauded, and I felt a wave of happiness.
As part of the prize from the Jimmy Fund Contest, I was able to sit in a private suite with my family and a few of my baseball buddies. We had great seats, and we had to be watchful for foul balls that came our way. I'll never forget when Red Sox infielder Travis Shaw hit a solo home run. My buddies and I stood up and cheered and danced. It was so much fun. We ate popcorn, pizza, hot dogs, and ice cream sundaes.
Then we had a great surprise. Larry Lucchino, Red Sox President and one of the judges of the Jimmy Fund Contest, came by to visit and congratulate me. He invited my friends and me to watch the game down by the dugout. Along the way, I also met and talked to Red Sox Executive Vice President Charles Steinberg who let me try on his three Red Sox World Series rings. It was very cool.
We continued to our seats next to the visiting team's dugout. We watched the rest of the game right next to Indians manager and former Red Sox skipper Terry Francona. We didn't talk to him because he was zoned in to the game. Afterwards, we gave high fives to the players and they gave us a couple game balls.
The Red Sox lost to the Indians, 8-2, but the score did not matter to me. This special game was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will remember and cherish.
Photos: Adam Glanzman/Boston Red Sox (pitch), Maxwell Surprenant (scoreboard, rings, friends)