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What it’s like to throw a Tampa Bay Rays first pitch
Observations from a big, sloppy throw.
Columnist Stephanie Hayes holds a ceremonial first pitch ball at the Tampa Bay Rays game on Aug. 20, 2022.
Columnist Stephanie Hayes holds a ceremonial first pitch ball at the Tampa Bay Rays game on Aug. 20, 2022. [ STEPHANIE HAYES | Times ]
Published Aug. 24, 2022|Updated Aug. 24, 2022

The Tampa Bay Rays invited me to throw a ceremonial first pitch in a game against the Kansas City Royals last Saturday. Maybe my name entered the mix accidentally? Like, it fell off the “if you see this woman, please report her” board and into the “first pitch candidates” box.

Either way, it was such an honor to be asked! I, of course, am a Rays fan and happen to be shameless, so I agreed. However, I had thrown a baseball exactly never. Well, unless you count Wiffle ball games in my grandparents’ yard with the statue of the Blessed Virgin as third base. Come to think of it, no, my cousins would never have let me pitch at 3′9″.

This was my first pitch, possibly my last. Here are observations about the fun, rewarding and ultimately humbling experience, in case your phone rings and your boss’s boss’s boss starts with, “Now, hear me out.”

At long last, a career

Twenty years of journalism and writing projects turned out to be bleh, whatever. When I posted that I had a date with Major League Baseball, the skies parted and reams of ticker tape fell. It appears everyone had been waiting for me to, once and for all, be impressive. I had finally made it.

Practice makes defect

My baseball fan husband offered to teach me to pitch, and as much as it pained me to give one point to the phallocracy, this proposition made sense. “Let me see what you got,” he said, and I flopped the ball groundward like a gadget that shoots dog treats. Solid start. We invited a couple friends over and I made margaritas. They peppered me with tips — arm back, elbow high, flick from the wrist, follow through, something about leg position and “watching the ball,” whatever that means. I turned up Rihanna and tried to charm my way out of sports, but they kept making me throw. Incredibly rude!

I practiced one last day before deciding to Let Go and Let God, a spiritual way of saying, “give up entirely.”

Thanks for coming to my TED Talk

I booked a makeup appointment because I knew there would be plenty of photos. We’ll talk about that in a second. Rebecca Maalouf was my artist at MAC in the Countryside Mall Dillard’s. She told me about a TED Talk that posited that anxiety and excitement are twin emotions, so reframing these feelings can help with nerves. Sound, calming advice, and she made me feel glamorous! That wouldn’t last, haha.

Columnist Stephanie Hayes prepares for the first pitch at the Tampa Bay Rays game against the Kansas City Royals at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fl. on Aug. 20, 2022.
Columnist Stephanie Hayes prepares for the first pitch at the Tampa Bay Rays game against the Kansas City Royals at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fl. on Aug. 20, 2022. [ WILL VRAGOVIC | Tampa Bay Rays ]

By the time we got to Tropicana Field and a Rays employee escorted my family to the turf, I had forgotten every bit of wisdom, mental or physical. The lights were blindingly bright, the stands robust on a Saturday. All humans sounded like teachers from Charlie Brown. I shuffled to the mound, trying to summon the practice sessions. Right leg back … no, right leg forward … square hips ... something with two fingers. The seconds felt like hours. I had to unload the cursed ball so that the professionals people paid to see could start. I slob-pitched it to the left and made a human shrug emoji. (Video!) It bounced in the clay. Actual pitcher Jeffrey Springs scrambled to scoop it up, and Raymond looked disappointed.

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On the way to our seats, an usher stopped me. I thought she would have glowing words of support. She said, “Stephanie. You could have done better than that. Well, you tried.”

Stephanie Hayes, Tampa Bay Times columnist, smiles, after she throws out the first pitch ahead of a Rays game against the Kansas City Royals at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2022.
Stephanie Hayes, Tampa Bay Times columnist, smiles, after she throws out the first pitch ahead of a Rays game against the Kansas City Royals at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2022. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

Looks aren’t everything, but they aren’t nothing

Now, listen. My self-esteem is normally good. At the same time, I have one of those faces that can photograph like beige polymer clay. My Polish/Irish worker DNA resembles sacks of onions and potatoes stored for the harsh winter ahead. We weren’t out there with crisp bone structure and tans, you know?

Knowing this, I dutifully prepared to de-puff. I got off margaritas, applied compresses and a frozen jade roller. Rebecca contoured cheekbones and a jaw with bronzing powders.

Hilarious efforts all, in hindsight. Did you know that no one looks good while throwing a baseball? I didn’t, but now I do. Throw a ball before a camera at your own risk. I could not jut my chin and smize. My neck swallowed my face like a “Dune” sandworm and everyone snapped photos at once.

Thus, let’s just say there were plenty of not-so-flattering pitching photos from a variety of cameras. My only option was to devolve into the maniacal cackle of a witch sequestered in the kingdom’s wood for 4,000 years who came upon her shocking visage in the reflection of a nearby pond.

Those photos? Oh, we will not be showing them again. Should I go missing, you may discuss fun memories of the First Pitch but only disseminate my most glamorous images to the media. This writing is more ironclad than a legally drawn last will and testament. Now, play ball.

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