*I posted a previous blog a year or so ago about how much we enjoyed people watching when I worked up at the deck. This enjoyment has continued over the years even though my location at the ballpark has changed. The UIC is a great place to people watch from and as a result, I have decided to have a blog miniseries about different groups of people who are fun to watch at each game.*
Group #1: First Pitch Participants
Now every baseball fan knows that the ceremonial first pitch is an important part of the pregame at any ballgame. At most major league parks you may only see one or two pitches, usually thrown by a well-known member of the community, or a celebrity, or a former player. This is not the case in many minor league parks, Reading included. At Reading, anyone can throw out a first pitch with the purchase of a first pitch package. It can be for a birthday, anniversary, graduation, bachelor/bachelorette party or just because you want to throw out a first pitch. There are also first pitches thrown by contest winners and sponsors.
With something like first pitches you’re going to see the good, the bad, and the “did that really just happen?”. If you go on to YouTube and search “bad first pitches,” you will find a plethora of videos of first pitches gone wrong or countdowns of the top 10 worst first pitches.
In my time working at FirstEnergy Stadium I have seen hundreds of first pitches. I’ve seen first pitch participants as young as two and as old as 98. There was even one that was a surprise military homecoming – a wife threw a pitch in honor of her husband, not knowing that he was the one behind the catcher’s mask.
Confessional: Have you ever thrown out a first pitch? If yes, how do you think it went? If no, what would you be most worried about if you were asked to throw out a first pitch?
Now it is understandable that while throwing out a first pitch can be exciting, it can also be nerve-wracking for some people. There are people who are not comfortable standing in front of a crowd of a couple thousand people. You can generally tell by the body language of people in line who is ready to throw and who is dreading that moment when all eyes are on them.
My favorite group of first pitch participants to watch are the young kids. I love watching the really tiny ones walk almost all the way to home plate and then throw the ball straight down into the grass. Sometimes they will pick it up and try again; other times they simply stare at the ball on the ground until someone moves them off the field. Every now and then we’ll see a youngster who refuses to throw or attempt to throw and instead they walk from the mound and hand the ball to the catcher.
After the young kids, I get a kick out of watching all the teenage and young adult guys who think they are very impressive.
The thing I like about this group is you can always tell which ones have actually ever played baseball. They’re the ones who will take the time to set their stance on the makeshift mound and watch the catcher as if he is giving them signs. This is followed by an elaborate wind up and then they hurl the ball toward home plate as if they were the next Cy Young or Nolan Ryan. This group is always entertaining because while they can all throw the ball, it is clear that they are not all pitchers.
By the end of the summer, the number of first pitches we have watched from the UIC is pretty high, but it never gets old. From the young fan to the old fan, each first pitch participant brings their own unique style to the experience. This is exactly what makes the first pitch participants a great group for people watching.