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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Coming off one of the worst performances of the year, Lovie Smith met with the media and addressed some questions about if the Texans would make any changes to the team or coaching staff this week. Here are some quick observations.

1. Washington was just better. Before taking the first question, Lovie said after watching the film it was clear Washington was the better team on Sunday. The team didn't play well upfront (on offense) and didn't have much of a chance to win the game. He believed the team did some good things on defense and played the run better, but were unable to take the ball away.

2. Lovie made it seem like changes are definitely coming at QB. When asked if any changes would be made this week to the QB or the coaching staff, he basically said he would talk to the players before the media if changes were in the works. Smith said the players were off today and not in the building. He followed that up by saying, “We're not pleased with where we are. Do we need to do some things differently? Yes, and we will.”

3. Hitting that “rookie wall.” Coach Smith was asked if hitting the “rookie wall” could be causing some of the team's struggles. He brought up Kenyon Green's challenges at guard, admitting that taking a “pounding every time” can be tough. But if they have hit the rookie wall, he hasn't “noticed it.”

4. Sometimes you need a spark. When asked if football teams sometimes require a spark, he said yes. “Especially when you've lost as many games as we have.” Davis Mills and Kenyon Green have to be the first names that come to mind, and making a change on the o-line probably doesn't qualify as a spark.

5. At a certain point, you are who you are. Lovie didn't dance around it, he said “What's been put on video is probably who we are now, I acknowledge that.” This is the type of statement the fans really needed to hear. Owning up to what everyone can clearly see and addressing this head on matters. Most fans fully understand the team is in a rebuild, just be as honest as you can with everybody. Not doing this in the postgame press conference on Sunday, had to be a big part of why the media was coming at him with more conviction.

6. Expect Kenyon Green to keep playing despite Sunday's performance. This is why I believe a change will be made at QB this week, and not offensive guard. Lovie talked about if a player is struggling and he's still your best option, they'll have to get their “nose bloodied” and get better. No argument here. Green is a first round pick at guard, he's only going to get better if he plays. Give him some help if he needs it, but has to be out there. And let's face it, he is the best option at left guard.

7. Coaches decide who will play if there's going to be a change. When asked, Smith said the coaches decide who's playing. GM Nick Caserio and CEO Cal McNair will be in the loop, but coaches make the call on who starts.

8. “Kyle Allen can make all the throws.” Lovie was asked his thoughts on the Texans backup QB and said, “He (Allen) has a history of good play in the NFL.” When asked about Mills, he said he's seen some growth from the second-year QB, but it's hard to talk about how much someone has grown after yesterday. Yikes, that says it all right there.

Final thoughts

You really get a sense of the tone by watching the full presser above, so I do recommend it. I came away also feeling this possible switch to Kyle Allen may only last a week or so. But at this point in the season, everything has to be evaluated. Including OC Pep Hamilton. If Kyle Allen plays a game or two and the offense still stinks, some of the blame must fall on Pep. But if Allen plays well and long enough to where it doesn't look like the offense is the problem, you have your answer on Davis Mills. At least this season, anyway.

Of course, many fans want the Texans to finish the season with the worst record, so they get the first pick in the draft. If Kyle Allen does get to play and ends up winning a few games, it could be bittersweet. The Texans do have some cushion in the standings for the first pick. Hopefully, the team can get all their answers at QB and OC while still locking up the first pick in the draft. Alabama QB Bryce Young would be a nice Christmas present for Texans fans after a tough year.

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