Ceremonial First Pitch
On April 14, 1910, President William Howard Taft was the first U.S. President to throw out the first pitch in a Major League Baseball game. As the story goes, President Taft attended Opening Day for the Washington Senators game against the Philadelphia Athletics. Washington’s manager, Jimmy McAleer, had the idea to invite the president to throw out a ceremonial first pitch. Walter Johnson, Washington’s ace pitcher and future Hall of Famer, invited President Taft to throw out the pitch. The president threw the pitch from his seat to Johnson, who then kept the ball. President Taft returned the following year to throw the first pitch again. The president missed Opening Day in 1912, but President Woodrow Wilson was given the honor in 1913. Thus, a tradition was born.
April 14, 1910. President Taft
July 15, 2023. Todd Aaron Smith
Ready to throw the ball
Fast-forwarding 113 years, 3 months and 1 day, I was invited to throw out the Ceremonial First Pitch at a Kansas City Royals game. It was an honor beyond words. I was given this opportunity on June 28th, about two weeks before the actual event. It felt like the thrill of a lifetime, but soon I began to wonder if I would be able to deliver a good pitch, or if I would embarrass myself in front of a stadium full of people.
I went to the middle school ball field in town and measured 60’ 6” from the backstop, which is the distance from the pitcher’s mound to home plate in an MLB game. Then I attached a small paper as a target on the backstop. I threw baseball after baseball after baseball at it. It took no time at all to realize I am no longer 20 years old. I was incredibly sore the next day and made good use of heat rub and Tylenol. I returned to the ball field every other day, trying my best to throw the ball at the target.
Finally, the big day arrived. I met the Royals staff member at the time and place they indicated and I was taken down to the press room to wait until time to go to the field. After a short time, I was handed the ball I would be throwing and taken through the tunnel system under the stadium. I exited the tunnels directly beside the Royals dugout on the field. The team had just begun coming out of the clubhouse and into the dugout. I was standing within arm's reach of most of the Royals players. It was surreal, to say the least. The young lady who was directing me from the Royals staff, Kelly, told me that we would walk to the edge of the grass and wait. She would tell me when to go, and upon her direction, I was to head out to the pitcher’s mound. Kelly told me that after the stadium announcer introduced me, he would end by saying, “Whenever you’re ready, Todd, fire away!” That was my cue to throw the pitch. She said I could either stand on the pitcher’s mound or in front of it on the grass. I asked, “How could I possibly miss the opportunity to throw the ball from the pitcher’s mound?”
So then it happened. The P.A. announcer began to introduce me. “Throwing out today’s ceremonial first pitch…”. I looked at Kelly. She nodded and said, “Okay.” I said, “Thank you, Kelly,” and began to walk across the field to the pitcher’s mound. As I stepped onto the pitcher’s mound, I saw that there was a ball and rosin bag laying there. That was the game ball! It occurred to me that within minutes, a real pitcher was going to be standing exactly where I was to throw real pitches. I can say with confidence that standing on the pitcher’s mound in a Major League Baseball stadium (where the attendance that day was 15,428 people) is a very different experience than seeing it on TV. I stepped on the pitching rubber, looked toward home plate, did a small wind-up and threw that ball with all of my heart and soul. It wasn’t the best pitch I ever threw, but it wasn’t the worst, either. It really didn’t matter.
I am so, so very grateful. I am grateful for the people who helped make this moment happen. I am grateful for the Kansas City Royals, who were incredibly kind, yet quite professional. I am grateful for family who was there to see it. It happened very quickly and then was done, but it was a few minutes of my life that I will never, never forget.
I appeared on the big scoreboard!
Even the ball itself is special.