"The second occurred at a ceremony in Riverside, California. For a reason I can't recall, Stan Musial was at the plate, and Monte Irvin was the catcher. Stan says, 'How about if I swing at your first pitch?' I thought that was a great idea. But I looked at Stan in the batter's box in that stance of his, and I suddenly felt like all those National League pitchers must have felt. I couldn't for the life of me throw the ball over the plate. After three pitches I gave up."
Stripped of the pomposity and costumes and gimmickry, the first ball ceremony can still mean something. Al Newman, an in-fielder with the Minnesota Twins in 1991 and now a scout with the club, was honored before Game 1 of the '91 Series, not as the thrower but as the receiver. The pitcher was Steve Palermo, the American League umpire recovering from a gunshot wound he had received earlier that summer as he chased a fleeing mugger, and he specifically asked that Newman be his catcher. "Steve and I always seemed to talk when we were on the field, but I had no idea he was going to pick me," says Newman. "It was very touching. It brought a tear to my eye. Later I asked him why he picked me, and he said, 'I respect you and the way you play the game.' It's one of my great moments in baseball."
One of the most eloquent first ball ceremonies came before the resumption of the 1989 "Earthquake" World Series in the Bay Area, when 12 ordinary people who had done extraordinary things for emergency services during the disaster were given the honor for Game 3 at Candlestick Park. Says Giant coach Bob Brenly, who caught one ball, "They picked the right people that day. If ever there was an appropriate ceremony, that was it."
Every once in a while, that first pitch is a strike.