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Still, it will be hard to top the Kiteman Kronicles. In 1972 Giles hired a daredevil he had read about in SI who flew off cliffs with a kite (now better known as a hang glider) on his back. The flier had Giles build a $5,000 ramp in the outfield stands, but because the season was delayed a week and the guy had a prior commitment to teach the president of Mexico how to water-ski, Giles had to find a replacement. "I looked in the Yellow Pages, but I couldn't find any Kiteman," he says. Giles found a substitute, but on Opening Night the substitute froze. Giles told his people to push him down the ramp. The reluctant Kiteman took off, but as the wind caught him, he veered off and crash-landed into the centerfield seats. "I almost had a heart attack," says Giles. "I thought he was dead. The fans were really booing. But I saw him kind of struggle to his feet and lob the ball to the bullpen.
"It wasn't too pretty. But we got so much attention, we had him back the next year. We made the ramp three times as wide. He made it down the ramp. And then he crashed into centerfield. So the next time we tried, in 1980, we used another guy. And he made it."
In 1977 the Atlanta Braves tried to hire King Kong—the mechanical ape from the 1976 movie—to throw out the first ball, but he was too expensive and too dangerous. "Instead of throwing out the first ball," p.r. director Bob Hope said at the time, "his arm could go crazy and wipe out several dozen fans." Farrah Fawcett-Majors also proved too expensive for the Braves that year—she wanted $50,000.
New Mariner manager Lou Piniella says he often wondered why his former boss Cincinnati Red owner Marge Schott never taught her dogs, Schottzie I and II, to throw out the first pitch. The Athletics thought they had an elephant who could do just that in 1989, the year the pachyderm was restored as the team mascot. Its name was Akili, and it performed flawlessly in rehearsal, flicking the ball some 40 feet to the catcher with its trunk. Showtime came and Akili was freaked out by the crowd. It just dropped the ball at its feet. The A's promotions director, Sharon Kelly, had to pick the ball up and throw it to the catcher.
Pittsburgh coach Rich Donnelly has seen a lot of first ball ceremonies in his time, but his most memorable was at the 1978 opener in Tucson, where he was managing the Texas Rangers' Triple A team. "The first pitch came down with a sky diver who was nude," says Donnelly.
What did he do?
"What did she do," Donnelly corrects. "She didn't have to do anything. She tried to throw out the first pitch, but she couldn't get it through the screen on the paddy wagon. I think she was a dancer at the Cha Cha Club. Our pitching coach, Ed Nottle, set it up."
By now you probably have some idea of what it's like to catch a first ball. Sometimes it's a pain. "Some guys try to throw as hard as they can," says Mike Macfarlane of the Royals, "but eight times out of 10, it's in the dirt. You don't wear your mask out there, but definitely your cup." Sometimes it's fun. "When I was at Memphis," says Macfarlane, "this 13-year-old girl softball pitcher threw me a dart right in the middle of the plate. It shocked the heck out of me. She threw better than some guys on the team." And sometimes it's rewarding. Dave Valle of the Mariners once caught the U.S. Treasurer, and she gave him an autographed $1 bill to commemorate the occasion. "I still have it," says Valle.
But what's it like throwing a first ball? Former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill says he practiced for two weeks before his first ball in the 1986 World Series. "You know the crowd is going to boo the hell out of you, but the first ball is a thrill you can't turn down," he says. "I would drag my administrative assistant out into the hall of the Capitol, and we'd practice right there. We'd start off at 15 feet, then 18, then 20. People would be walking right by us because Congress was in session at the time. I'm sure they understood what was at stake. By the time the game rolled around, I was ready." And Tip threw a strike.
Then there is Kuhn. He may be the unofficial first pitch champion, having presided over baseball for 15½ years, the second-longest tenure of any commissioner. He has thrown out hundreds of first balls all over the world: in the U.S., Canada, Japan, Mexico, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands and the People's Republic of China. "I loved the first ball ceremony," he says. "I had a reasonably good arm, so I didn't mind showing it off from the mound. I do remember two embarrassing instances, though. One was in Jacksonville about 10 years ago. I was all set to throw out the first ball at a minor league game there, but while I'm standing in the box with the ball in my hand, I hear the crack of the bat. They had started the game without me.