NOT AN EASY TOSS

Ken Hoffman on how to throw the perfect big league first pitch

Photo by Michelle Watson/CultureMapSnap

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

By now, everybody's seen the video of the poor Chicago White Sox employee of the month who won the opportunity to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Sox game. Her toss was, in the words of Bob Uecker, "just a bit outside."

She hit a photographer who was standing to her left, in a different time zone from home plate. It was one of the worst, funniest ceremonial first pitches ever. There was rapper 50 Cent, who missed the plate by a country mile, Michael Jordan, who threw the pitch 10 feet over the catcher's head, and Houston's Olympic hero Carl Lewis, whose baseball pitch was almost as horrible as his singing pitch.

Mariah Carey wore high heels and threw the ball straight down.

Pitchin' ain't easy

To fans in the stands, and people watching on TV, throwing the ceremonial pitch looks easy. What's so difficult about tossing a baseball 60 feet, 6 inches to a catcher? It's not like there's a hitter up there. You're basically just playing catch in your backyard.

It's simple, no excuse for throwing the ceremonial first anywhere other than right over the plate. That's the point I may have made several years ago in a column. I could do it, no sweat, with my eyes closed.

Your pitcher...Ken Hoffman

The Houston Astros called me on it. Okay, hot shot, how about you throw the ceremonial first pitch next week? The Dodgers will be in town, and there will be a big crowd.

I accept — on one condition. I don't want some assistant bullpen coach who wears No. 84 catching for me. I want either (Astros owner) Drayton McLane or (TV analyst) Jim Deshaies.

The Astros called back: Deshaies says he'll do it.

The reason most people throw the ceremonial first pitch into the dirt is because they're not used to throwing off a big league mound, which is higher than you'd think. The pitcher's rubber is 10 inches higher than the field. It slopes downward at the rate of one inch per foot.

Most of us are used to playing catch or co-ed softball games on flat Earth. It's the slope of the big league mound that causes mortals to stumble forward and bounce the ball toward home plate.

So … that weekend, I went to Wallin Field, home of West U Little League, and practiced throwing off a mound. I was confident that I could throw a strike across home plate at Minute Maid Park. But I also had a Plan B that would leave nothing to chance.

I got to Minute Maid Park 30 minutes before game time. An Astros media rep handed me a ball and pointed toward the mound. Some first pitchers walk to a spot in front of the mound and throw from about 45 feet on flat ground. Weenies.

I brought my son Andrew and his friend, also Andrew, with me to the mound. Then two things happened that threw me off: I heard the announcer say my name, and I turned and saw my name on the scoreboard. That brought it home, and I suddenly got nervous and scared: what if I throw the ball straight into the ground?

Continue reading on CultureMap to find out how Ken Hoffman's first pitch went.

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After the big offensive showing to take the opener on Thursday, the Astros entered Friday's game at Globe Life Field against the Rangers just one win or Angels loss away from securing their spot in the playoffs. Here is how the game unfolded:

Final Score (10 innings): Rangers 5, Astros 4.

Record: 29-29, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Brett Martin (1-1, 1.98 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Enoli Paredes (3-3, 3.05 ERA).

Urquidy goes seven while allowing two

The Rangers would strike first in Friday's game, getting a two-out solo home run against Jose Urquidy in the bottom of the second to grab the early 1-0 lead. Urquidy did relatively well on the night, though he would allow another solo homer in the bottom of the fifth. Those were the only two runs he allowed, working in and out of some trouble throughout the game on his way to finishing seven innings. His final line: 7.0 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 5 K, 2 HR, 98 P.

Houston grabs their first lead late

Unlike their hot night at the plate the night prior, it took the Astros until the fifth inning to get on the board. It came after Carlos Correa hit a leadoff single, then came all the way around to score on an RBI-triple by George Springer, making it a 1-1 tie at the time.

After the Rangers went back in front 2-1 in the bottom of the inning on their second solo homer of the night, Alex Bregman would tie it up again with a solo home run of his own, making it 2-2. Houston would get their first lead of the night in the top of the eighth, with Altuve working a leadoff walk before scoring later in the inning on an RBI-single by Yuli Gurriel.

Rangers get the walk-off to keep Houston waiting for playoff bid

After Urquidy, Blake Taylor would take over on the mound in the bottom of the eighth, retiring the Rangers in order for a scoreless inning to hold the one-run lead. Still 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth, Houston turned to their closer, Ryan Pressly. After two quick outs, he would allow a game-tying solo home run, making it 3-3 to postpone Houston's celebration at least another inning as the game headed to extras.

In the top of the tenth, Jose Altuve was placed on second as the free runner. He advanced to third on a groundout to start the inning, then scored on a sac fly by Alex Bregman, making it a 4-3 lead for Houston. Enoli Paredes would load the bases before Texas would tie the game on a sac fly in the bottom of the inning, keeping runners on second and third. Houston made the change to Brooks Raley to try and extend the game another inning, but instead, the Rangers would get the walk-off win, spoiling Houston's chance to clinch their playoff spot themselves with a win.

Up Next: The third game of this four-game set will get underway at 6:05 PM Central on Saturday. On the mound for Texas will be Kyle Gibson (2-6, 5.87 ERA), and, as of now, the Astros still have Lance McCullers Jr. (3-3, 4.24 ERA) listed as their starter.

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