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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Let him cook! Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Houston Rockets are in the midst of a rebuild. Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr are studs. KPJ just signed a four-year extension with the team. Other guys like Jabari Smith Jr, Kenyon Martin Jr, Alperen Sengun, Josh Christopher, Tari Eason, and Jae'Sean Tate are really good pieces to surround Green and KPJ with. The only issue with this group: they're REALLY young! Tate is the elder statesman at 27 of the young nucleus. Most are barely old enough to buy a drink. Some still aren't old enough! They're a bunch of green bananas waiting to turn yellow to slightly brown and be ripe enough for consumption.

We need to give it time. Just like bananas, they take time to ripen. Coach Stephen Silas is known for developing young players. His most prized student is the star player for that team in South Oklahoma up 45. Number 77 for that team credited Silas with helping him realize his All-Pro potential while Silas was a part of the coaching staff there. To a man, all his former players credit him with being a positive influence on their careers. So why are fans in a rush to get rid of him?

When you look at the Rockets' record over the last few years, it's gross. Sure, they've been a lottery team the last couple of seasons, but that was by design. As part of the Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook trades, they gave away pick swap rights. Had they not been that bad, they wouldn't have been able to draft Green or Smith Jr. Those two guys are building blocks for the future, along with KPJ. Giving those picks away would've put this team further down the totem pole of developing themselves into a contender. Losing pays off when you can hit on high lottery picks.

If you give a chef dirt, bread, ham, molded cheese, and spoiled mayo, can you expect anything else but a nasty ham sandwich? How about if the chef was given a steak that is almost rotten, potatoes with root growth, and spoiled butter? Could you expect a better meal than the sandwich? Yes! However, that meal may still cause a stomachache. Now, give said chef a full complement of gourmet groceries and guess what you'll get?

This is why I say let Silas cook. He's the perfect coach for this group of kids. He can teach them all the fundamentals of the game at this level and help them grow into their full potential. If there's a change to be made on the sidelines, move Silas into a front office role, but DO NOT get rid of him! Guys like him are too valuable. Why do you think Mark Cuban hated losing him, but knew he couldn't retain him because he had a head coach already? Cuban knew what he had in Silas and what Silas did for Luka Doncic. He can do something similar for the Rockets if given the time to work his magic.

Should Tilman Fertita find the need to move on, I'd look for a more experienced coach who can guide them from bottom of the playoff ladder into top four in the West and real contenders. For now, Silas is the head chef. Continue giving him the groceries he needs, and he'll continue giving these kids the lessons they need to develop. Changing the coach now could stunt their growth. Let him cook!

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