Major League Baseball has nixed the YouTube video of Gary Dell’Abate’s now-infamous first pitch disaster last weekend at Citi Field, where the lifelong Mets fan unleashed a soft toss that looked like something from the Wild Thing’s arsenal in “Major League.” It was about nine feet high and another nine feet outside.
Poor Gary. Due to his status as the longtime producer and frequent on-air presence on Howard Stern’s show, he’s been on the fringes of fame for years—-and he’s a major figure in Stern Nation, where ball-busting is the real national pastime. Dozens of local and national sportscasts ran with the video, and Howard, Robin and in particular Artie have had a field day on the show this week, spending hours dissecting the moment, erupting into gales of laughter at Gary’s expense. They even had a phone interview with Yankees’ outfielder Johnny Damon, who said it was among the worst ceremonial first pitches he’d ever seen. (Damon did his best to avoid Artie’s comments about A-Rod, steroids and women.)
UPDATE: Thanks to Ian for this link.
This is the thing about those ceremonial first pitches: the potential downside is about a thousand times bigger than the upside. I know exactly what Gary was going through in the weeks leading up to his first pitch. He was fretting on and off the air about making a fool of himself—and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I guarantee you, if he goes to the mound at Citi Field next week with nobody in the stands and no cameras rolling rolling, he probably throws a strike right down the middle. But it’s the knowledge that you might f— up and it might become a YouTube moment that plays games with your psyche.
I know it sounds stupid and silly, but YOU go out there and throw a first pitch, especially if you’re in a situation like Gary’s, where you know that if you screw up, it’s going to become a part of Stern show lore for the rest of your life. I had similar apprehensions last year in the days leading up to my stint on the mound at U.S. Cellular Field. I’m an OK baseball player—I still play a passable second base in 12-inch softball leagues in Chicago and I still go to the batting cages once in a while. I play catch with my 9-year-old nephew and rarely even feel a twinge in the area where I had rotator cuff surgery a few years back. When the White Sox extended the invite for me throw out a first pitch before a key September game on a Friday night in Chicago, I was thrilled—-but I also knew if I messed up, I’d become a YouTube “star,” at least on a minor level. More than a few people would probably enjoy seeing a video headlined, “Movie Critic Sucks on the Mound.”
I got all kinds of advice from people. Go into a full windup. Pitch from the stretch. Don’t wind up at all—-just toss it. Aim high. Aim low. Goof around so it doesn’t seem like you’re worried.
The Sox were nice enough to give me a custom-made jersey, and also a green St. Patrick’s Day jersey with Jim Thome’s name and number. They also let me bring my nephew onto the field, where he posed for a photo with Ozzie Guillen and received a signed game bat from catcher Toby Hall, who delivered the treasure unsolicited. (What a cool thing to do.)
And then it was time for me to get out there and throw that ceremonial first pitch to Sox ace Mark Buehrle. (There’s a pic in the Photos section.) My form wasn’t exactly Bob Gibson circa 1968—but I managed to get the ball over the plate, a little bit above the strike zone. Buehrle came out and signed the ball, we took a picture, I thanked the Sox and I went up to the stands to join my friends and family, relieved that I had survived the moment without becoming a YouTube punchline.
I can’t help but laugh at some of the jokes they’re enjoying at Gary’s expense on the Stern show, but I’m also feeling his pain. He’s showing an awful lot of grace by taking the countless hits and only occasionally snapping back, but inside it has to be killing him. If he throws a strike, it gets two minutes of airtime on Monday’s show and it’s forgotten. But he tried to aim the ball and he over-thought the moment, and his worst fears came to pass. I honestly feel terrible for him. In the grand scheme of things, it’s no big deal, but in Stern World, oy. There but for the grace of God…