Karl Lindholm: First pitch at Fenway
Vermonter Bill Lee, the former Red Sox pitcher also known as “Spaceman,” told a story to my class at Middlebury College about throwing out a ceremonial first pitch at Fenway Park.
Of course, Bill Lee threw 225 actual first pitches at Red Sox games in his major league career, some even in the World Series. He was elected to the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2012 and was then asked to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at a game.
“I wasn’t just going to lob the ball to the catcher,” Lee explained. “I wanted to show everyone I still had it. I would throw my best fastball from 60 feet-six inches.
“And I did! It was only after I released the ball did I realize my catcher was the ball girl. The ball went whizzing by her ear all the way to the backstop. I coulda killed her.
“A Red Sox official came up to me after the pitch and said, ‘Bill, just what is there about the ‘ceremonial’ first pitch that you don’t understand?’”
So Bill Lee and I have that in common — the part about throwing the ceremonial first pitch, not the part about almost killing the ball girl: I threw out the first pitch at Fenway last Friday night in the Sox 16-4 win over the Angels.
It’s true, actually happened. I have over 25,000 witnesses. Yep, there I was down on the field at Fenway on a beautiful summer night as the park filled up with Red Sox partisans, baseball fans.
I was there with people I love: wife Brett, son David, and Pete, my Middlebury College friend, classmate, and baseball teammate. About 10 other people were being acknowledged before the game and they were also there on the field with a few of their friends and family.
Only two of that group were throwing out a first pitch — me and Mike, a friendly fellow a couple of decades younger than I. Mike threw his fastball over the heart of the plate (impressive!) just before it was my turn to head out to the mound, accompanied by one of the ball girls. The other ball girl was indeed the catcher.
“Ball girls” is a misnomer. They are young women in their mid-20s who have graduated from college — Boston University — where they played on the softball team. They are in charge of the first-pitch ritual, and they were great.
I walked right out to the rubber on the top of the pitcher’s mound, like Mike, as I was being introduced by the public address announcer — “Karl Lindholm, Emeritus Dean and baseball scholar at Middlebury College,” with my every movement projected onto the giant video screen atop the centerfield bleachers.
Believing discretion to be the better part of valor, I moved up to a spot just in front of the mound to throw my get-me-over “fastball.” I didn’t bounce it, to my great relief, but it was not a strike. It was little bit outside, not a Bob Uecker “just a little bit outside,” but definitely outside.
The ball girl was safe with me pitching. I asked her to autograph the ball I threw. She was taken aback, “You want me to sign the ball?” I said “Sure. If it were Jason Varitek, I’d get his autograph. You’re my catcher, my battery-mate.”
She already has a big-league signature, which means it’s unreadable. Her first name appears to be “Jmllgye.”
Then it was over. Exhilarated, we walked up to our seats as a young woman was singing a stirring National Anthem, and then Brian Johnson of the Red Sox delivered the real first pitch as we settled in.
It was a great night from beginning to end. I had low-keyed it all week prior to the game, depressing expectations. But this was pretty cool and I was giddy with excitement (in truth, my giddy looks a lot like my normal sober state).
Why me? Good question. I’m not in the Red Sox Hall of Fame.
It turns out my friend Pete won four tickets to a Red Sox game, along with the opportunity to throw out the first pitch, at a charity auction to benefit Greater Boston PFLAG, an education and advocacy group that supports LGBTQ families and individuals.
Pete wrote to me on June 12, asking “Hey Karl, Have you ever thrown out the first pitch at a Red Sox game?” That was the whole message.
I wrote back, “No, but I once read ‘Casey at the Bat’ on the field before a Vermont Expos game at Centennial.”
It went from there.
I questioned why he didn’t do it himself; as I recall we were about equal in our baseball ineptitude. “You’ll have more fun doing it,” he responded, “and I’ll have more fun watching you. Also, my shoulder aches when I just pass a bread plate.” Such a generous gesture from an old friend.
I put some pictures up on Facebook and have received dozens of warm messages. I especially like this one that came by email from a favorite former student who was actually at the game:
I live in New York. Go to Fenway once a summer with my brother, a Cantabrigian.
Eating a hot dog Friday night, he told me “The Red Sox pre-game proceedings are interminable… they let anybody of no consequence anywhere in New England throw out a ceremonial first pitch.”
At which point “Karl Lindholm, Dean Emeritus, Middlebury College” popped up on the centerfield scoreboard.
I said “Wow, I know that guy.”
“I rest my case,” he replied
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