Since I was seven years old, I daydreamed about making a stadium full of people ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ because of my baseball talent. On Saturday, it actually happened.
When I arrived in Chicago on Saturday night, the clerk at the hotel knew who I was. He asked if I was in town to play a show. I told him that I wasn’t and that I was there to throw out the first pitch at a Cubs game. With that, he upgraded me. I had the best room in the house - a deluxe suite. It was so nice - nicer than the house I live in and almost as big!
The next morning, I woke up early. I had breakfast with my friends Jamie and Lauren, who came up from Houston to see my big moment. Maggie was there too. She came from St. Paul, Minnesota. And Mike flew down from Toronto. After breakfast, we found a little park where we could play catch so I could loosen up my arm. We threw the ball around for 15 minutes or so and then made our way to Wrigley Field.
As soon as we arrived, my friend Sarah, who works for the Cubs, presented me with my own Cubs jersey, customized with ‘Buck 65’ on the back. It’s so beautiful. Then she lead us out onto the field to take a look around, say some hellos and take photos. The first person I saw when I walked out onto the field was Dodgers relief pitcher, Brian Wilson. He was talking to a small group of people. Then I saw Jorge Soler, the young phenom, who plays right field for Chicago. Then Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs’ power-hitting first baseman came out for some hellos and photos.
Finally, Cubs third baseman Luis Valbuena came over to say hello. He was assigned (or volunteered for) the task of catching my ceremonial first pitch. I didn’t want to take him by surprise, or worse, hurt him, so I said to him, “I’m going to put a little something on it”, meaning I planned on throwing the pitch hard. He smiled and said, “alright, gimme what you got.”
When it was time to get to work, the PA announcer introduced me. It was a nice surprise when he said, “From Mt. Uniacke, Nova Scotia…” That made me feel proud. I trotted out to the mound and took a look around. I took a deep breath. I looked at my feet on the dirt of the mound. I flashed through memories of playing for hours on end in my backyard. I thought about the man who scouted me when I was a teenager. I thought about my dad and some of the other most important people in my life. Then I held the ball up and showed it to Valbuena to let him know I was ready to go.
I didn’t throw the pitch with 100% max effort. I didn’t want to take the chance of hurting my shoulder or of throwing the ball into the backstop. But I did throw it hard. Maybe 75%. I threw a 4-seam fastball. It tailed and sunk a bit. It would have been a tough pitch for a right-handed batter and even more so for a lefty. It made a nice pop sound when it hit Valbuena’s glove. That ‘pop’ was followed by the best sound I’ve ever heard: the voices of a stadium full of people saying “oooooooh!” I had dreamed of hearing that sound my whole life. And I finally heard it. That sound was the best part of the whole thing. I’ll never forget it as long as I live.
After receiving the pitch, Valbuena trotted over and put his arm around me. He said, “whoa, that was good!” It was so flattering. Then he signed the ball for me. After shaking a few hands, I was lead to my seat. As I walked through the stands, people said, “nice pitch, Buck!” I couldn’t feel my feet touching the ground.
My seats were directly behind the Dodgers dugout. That was a huge thrill for me. I love the Cubs and I’m excited to watch them the next few years because they have so much young talent. It’s hard to imagine they won’t be a contender in the next year or two. But I’m also a big-time Dodgers fan. A bunch of my current favorite players are on the Dodgers. The entrance to their dugout was right in front of where I was sitting. One-by-one, they came in off the field from their warmups and into the dugout, just a few feet from me: Dee Gordon, Adrian Gonzales, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Clayton Kershaw (who’s coming off one of the greatest seasons in baseball history). Hanley Ramirez, the Dodgers super-star shortstop paused and motioned for me to toss my ball to him. I did so, he signed it, and tossed it back. I felt like I was seven years old all over again.
It was amazing to see a game that close up in a stadium so historic. And my god, what a game! Chris Coghlan, the Cubs’ left fielder and the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year went 4 for 4 with two home runs, including a game-winner in the 8th inning. Adrian Gonzales hit two home runs too. Valbuena hit a double (because I’m his good luck charm), Yasiel Puig made an absolutely incredible catch in center field (check it out: http://m.mlb.com/video/topic/11493214/v36436641/must-c-catch-puig-takes-flight-to-grab-one), there was even a 4-6-3 double play! The game had it all. The Cubs won and everyone went home happy (except for the Dodgers).
When I got back to my hotel that night (after buying a bunch of books at one of my favorite bookstores in the world (Unabridged on North Broadway)), I watched highlights from the game on my computer. In many of them, I could see myself and my friends in some of the shots, as clear as day. The greatest day or my life, preserved for posterity!
I can’t stop thinking about what happened, about my pitch, about the sound of the crowd… It was the biggest thrill of my life and it was perfect. It went like this: