Baseball: “Before”

By | July 22, 2019

Tonight will be a special night in the Furr household.

Carole will be singing the national anthem at tonight’s Vermont Lake Monsters minor league baseball game, which is cool, and … I’ll be throwing out the first pitch, which isn’t actually all that cool. Or exciting. Or noteworthy.

The Lake Monsters play in the short-season A (low-level, the rung just above the rookie leagues) New York-Penn League. They’ve been averaging 2,251 fans per game this season, but that includes both the weekend games where they have fireworks and 25 cent hot dogs and free t-shirts for the first thousand fans AND the games where the skies threaten rain all day, and the free giveaway is a collapsible dog bowl with the Lake Monsters logo, and it’s Monday.

Today is Monday, and the free giveaway is a collapsible dog bowl with the Lake Monsters logo, and rain is in the forecast. I’m going to be surprised if they get much more than a thousand fans in the stands.

And that’s exactly what Carole wanted when she was asked (after submitting a video of herself singing the anthem at a Burlington Concert Band concert, and having been accepted into the Lake Monsters’ anthem-singers pool) what night she wanted to sing. She figured it’d be easier to sing at a low-attendance, low-expectations game than it would be to sing at a packed house.

That said, I think she’s going to be great. She’s been practicing quite a bit and she’s been in very good voice. Other than nerves and technical issues with the microphone (which we hope will be nonexistent), there’s no reason why she shouldn’t do an amazing job.

As for me — the imbecile throwing out the first pitch — well, that’s likely to be another story entirely. No one really pays any attention to whoever throws out the first pitch at a minor league baseball game unless it’s a bona-fide celebrity (local or otherwise) or if whoever has the honor has brought a lot of friends and family along. Most people don’t even register that there is a first pitch being thrown out; it’s all done in a very low-key fashion. The fans are too busy finding their seats, eating hot dogs, peering confusedly at their souvenir dog bowls, and so forth. It’s not until they call for the fans to rise for the anthem that anything happening on the field really registers on their radar to any great extent.

Of course, you do see YouTube videos of great “first pitch” fails at major league games — like the poor woman who plunked a cameraman standing along the first base line. You screw up colorfully enough, you’re going to get some notoriety. But again, we’re talking major league there. There are a lot more eyeballs and television cameras, to say nothing of smartphone videos, involved. If I screw up horribly tonight, it will be little noted nor long remembered (™ A. Lincoln 1863).

But that said, in the mind of the person throwing the ball, it’s a low-reward high-risk experience. You’re so terrified of being one of the great all-time fails that you think too much and boom, you plunk a Little Leaguer who’s on the field for the national anthem festivities. It’s not really something I’ve ever really stayed up nights wanting to do.

So, with that said, you’re probably wondering how I came to be in this fix in the first place.

Well, so I am I.

I mean, I know technically how I got the honor — I won a charity auction a few months ago for the right to throw out the first pitch at a Lake Monsters game.

The auction was one of those grab-bag online auctions where everything from ski passes at the local ski resort to gift certificates for local restaurants are up for bid. There are always some hotly desired items (a golf outing for four at the local PGA-level course) and some clunkers (have your fortune told by local Tarot card expert So-and-so). I find charity auctions kind of interesting for a couple of reasons — one, it’s amusing to see what sort of things the charity was able to get donated (tarot card readings? really?) and once in a while there actually is something desirable and worth bidding on. And if nothing else, there’s the urge to get in a moderately low bid early for something peculiar or strange and see if against all logic and reason it holds on and winds up as the winning bid.

This year’s auction on behalf of the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts (our main local theater and performing arts space) had 220 items up for auction — some interesting, some not. I won the bidding for two items (but put in bids on four or five more, none of which I was especially heartbroken to lose out on):

I have absolutely no idea why I bid more than a few dollars on the whole first pitch thing. I can see bidding fifty bucks early on just for giggles with the expectation of being outbid in due course, and if I’d won at a bid of $50, well, why not? But $185? (Yes, $185. I’m embarrassed just typing it. That’s real money.) I do not remember bidding that much and can only say that either I made a typo (and then overlooked the typo when the site asked me to confirm my bid) or I was just out of my damn mind late one night and was up web-surfing when I should have been sleeping. You know those late-night (or drunk) Amazon purchases you hear about? You’re insomniac and cranky (or drunk) and five days later a Christmas-edition Big Mouth Billy Bass shows up at your door? Well, I think “bidding $185 to make a total fool out of yourself in front of a thousand strangers” certainly falls into the same general area.

Did I mention that the package also included a free baseball cap and Lake Monsters mascot bobblehead?

The cap turned out to be a leftover giveaway cap from last year’s Northeast Delta Dental cap night (although it is a nice cap; I’ve been wearing it on all my walks this summer) and the bobblehead definitely fills the “souvenir mascot bobblehead” niche in my life list, the one I didn’t know needed filling.

Have I been practicing? I meant to, but travel for work and other things cut into my free time and I didn’t get around to it — and then suddenly here we were, with only a couple days to go. I took a dozen baseballs to a local high school field yesterday and set up on the mound and aimed in the general direction of home plate. A third of my throws would have been right on the money. Another third or so would have required the catcher to step a couple steps to the left or right to make the catch. The others? Well, they weren’t as good. No cameramen would have been killed in the process, but they wouldn’t have had major league scouts calling up to sign me.

From what I understand, the most common mistake by first-pitch-throwers is shorting it; the advice generally given is to aim for three or four feet behind home plate, and hope it comes out in the wash. (I’ve never had a really strong throwing arm, so it probably doesn’t matter what I try to do; it’ll work out or not and all the planning and preparation I can do will probably not affect things in the slightest.)

Anyway, I expect to have some footage to share here later or tomorrow, both of Carole doing a tremendous job on the national anthem and me … doing whatever it is I wind up doing. I can say for sure that right now the words going through my mind are right out of Shepard’s Prayer (q.v.).


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