September 13, 2013 by ethanbryan
I have spent money to throw a baseball.
Well, technically speaking, my dad spent money so we could each throw three baseballs.
Every year, my family made an annual pilgrimage to the Ozarks Empire Fair, that sacred dusty space where the best foods were batter-fried or dipped in corn meal and root beer and pineapple whip were the preferred beverage and desert.
Every year, as soon as I stepped foot inside the fairground fence, I walked with determination toward the Speed Zone, the game where you could win a plastic replica helmet if you could correctly guess the speed of your third pitch. The Speed Zone also employed state-of-the-art sound effects; the faster the pitch, the higher and louder the tone emitted. Dad always accompanied me to the Speed Zone and forked over mucho bucks so the two of us could each throw three pitches.
The summer before my freshman year in high school, I was eager to strut my stuff, to prove that I could compete with the men. When Dad and I got to the Speed Zone, there was a guy whose throws sounded like emergency sirens when amplified—loud, high, head-turning squeals—and hit the padded matt with an incredible thump. 88. 87.
The barker asked him to make a guess at the speed of his third pitch.
His ego spoke for him when he replied, “90.”
The barker then looked at me, “Step on up, son, show us what you’ve got.”
I grabbed the ball, stepped back, took a crow-hop, and let go with everything I had. There was no emergency siren squeal. It was more like a low, lazy groan from an old dog. 65.
I tried again, determined to at least hit 70. Another low groan. 68.
The barker asked me to make a guess at the speed of my third pitch.
And my ego said, “70.”
I stepped back, ran, and crow-hopped only to hear a third low groan. 67.
No joy in Mudville or victory helmet.
In my self-centered world of humiliation and misery, I failed to notice how fast Dad threw his three pitches. We left the Speed Zone to go ride the rides. As we walked down the Ozarks Midway, we passed the game where you try and knock down deceptively stacked cups in one throw. We saw Mr. 88 there; he missed multiple times. My ninth-grade brain knew that this game was a ruse; I wasn’t even tempted to spend any of Dad’s money on that game.
* * * *
On Saturday, September 21, I’m asking for anyone who lives in the greater Kansas City Metro or anyone who wants to make a pilgrimage to Royals Stadium to meet me in the parking lot and pay money to throw a baseball to me.* There won’t be any plastic helmet prizes. There won’t be any radar guns. With a little luck, maybe:
Alex Gordon or
George Brett or
Frank White or
Willie Wilson or
Danny Duffy or
Jeremy Guthrie or
Ervin Santana or
Johnny Giavotella or
Bob Kendrick (President of the NegroLeaguesBaseballMuseum) or
Steve Physioc or
Ryan Lefebvre or
Joe Posnanski or
Eric the Reporter from Fox 4 or
Bob Dutton or
Sam Mellinger or
Mike Engel or
Mike the Theologian or
Brett the Artist or
Tim the Photographer
will show up and toss me a ball and donate a buck. And hopefully they’ll bring about 1,000 of their closest friends with them.
These throws have nothing to do with ego.
These throws are more than just for the sake of fun and community.
These throws are to make a difference in the world.
Every dollar that is donated will go straight to Team Not For Sale (http://www.notforsalecampaign.org/team-nfs/) to bring freedom to those trapped in modern-day slavery.
And every dollar really does make a difference.
In order to “bring the masses,” or at least 1,000 people, I’m turning this into a world record attempt thanks to the help of RecordSetter.com—the “Largest Game of Catch with One Person.”
Everyone with whom I “play catch”—I throw them the ball and they throw it back—will be asked to write their name down on an official list, which will then be submitted along with video and photographic evidence in hopes of setting another catch playing “world record.”
Regardless of the weather, I will be in the parking lot of the K at noon, with gloves and a ball, waiting, hoping, and praying for friends new and old to come and have a catch. (If you’re a lefty, please bring your own glove.) I’ll be there ready to toss, to talk, until thirty minutes before the game.
At that point, I’m heading to my seats. After all, the Royals are still in the Hunt for a Blue October.
And being inside the K and watching Royals baseball is, for me, a glimpse of heaven on earth.
So, please, spread the word. Tell your friends. Bring a grill and some hot dogs and some Dr Pepper and tail gate with me. (You might also bring Aleve and Tylenol and Ibuprofin.)
Because these throws are for freedom.
*If you’re planning on attending the game, you better purchase your tickets immediately!