I must admit, radio does have its perks sometimes. I just returned back to Southern California after one of the more memorable 24 hours of my life that I can recall. Let me explain.
After a couple of events for our fine affiliate in Philadelphia, WNTP AM990, Hugh and I were picked up outside of our hotel around 4:30PM Eastern. Keep in mind that the build-up to this evening has been virtually non-stop for the last couple of weeks. Hugh was asked to go to Philly, and as part of his trip, was offered a chance to throw out the first pitch at a Phillies-Braves game, a golden opportunity that any American in their right mind would jump at, unless you happen to suffer from terminal jockophobia, a condition that presents itself as near paralysis when professional athletes are nearby. Hugh didn't miss a beat, though, and immediately volunteered to have me fly back there as well and bounce the ball in on his behalf. Hugh had been merciless up to today, trying to psych me out every which way possible. Until Friday afternoon, I wasn't worried a bit. Now that we're about two hours away, the butterflies are starting to flutter.
In front of the hotel, starting to realize what I've gotten myself into a little later. I'm sure a lot of people recognize the sign in the background, but there's probably a bunch of people that don't know that Monopoly's Reading Railroad, which is actually pronounced like redding, comes from this railroad behind me.
The four corners of Philadelphia professional sports. Behind Hugh is the Wachovia Spectrum, home of the Philadelphia Kixx, their soccer team.
90 degrees to the left is the Wachovia Center, home to the Philadelphia 76ers and the Philadelphia Flyers.
90 degrees further to the left and you have Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles, or called The Linc by a lot of locals.
Our home for the evening, Citizens Bank Park, or CBP. I'm starting to get nervous for several reasons at this point, but mostly for two reasons. First, see the camera on Hugh's belt? It's mine. I've known Hugh a very long time. Hugh and electronics should usually never meet. It's for the best. In tonight's case, however, it's kind of hard to photograph me pitching, so I have to rely on Hugh to not miss. That's like relying on Joe Biden not to put his foot in his mouth.
The other reason I'm starting to feel the pressure increase is because I've heard the same line now at least a thousand times between last night at the National Constitution Center where we broadcast an abbreviated show, today at a couple of different station events, in tons of e-mails and calls, and from virtually every family member and friend I know - Don't bounce it. It's now become like the famous line heard a thousand times in the movie, A Christmas Story, where Ralphie wants a Red Rider BB gun, but keeps hearing over and over from everyone, "You'll shoot your eye out." 'Don't bounce it' has now become my own personal 'you'll shoot your eye out.'
I actually was excited about coming here, because this is the first of the new baseball parks I've been to. There's lots of really cool looking new parks in Texas, Houston, Philly, Seattle, San Diego, Milwaukee, and several more I'm not thinking of right now, where the design of the stadiums make them very fan friendly, and where each one has some unusual quirks to them. One day before I go to my great reward, I'd love to see a game at each city in the Majors.
Tonight was a night at the park where there were a ton of different subplots all going on at the same time, and which made the fact that I was throwing out the first pitch all the more surreal. WNTP and their sister station, WFIL, partnered with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, who had a block of about 500 tickets to the game that night, and had me throw out the first pitch on their behalf. Behind the stadium was this tent where FCA was able to congregate and hold a little Church before the game.
What do major leaguers do when their career is over, you ask? Literally anything and everything. But tonight, in what I think has got to be the first such career move, Kent Bottenfield went from being an All-Star pitcher with a 16 year career in the bigs, including a stint with the Phillies, to becoming a contemporary Christian music recording artist. He sang a few songs and gave his testimony to the FCA people in the tent.
Then out of nowhere arrived one of the greatest pitchers in baseball today, John Smoltz, who showed up to give his surprisingly frank testimony. He's been known as a Christian a quite a while, and has career stats both as a starting pitcher and a closer that could easily become Hall of Fame material, but he was very transparent by saying that just because you're a Christian doesn't mean everyday problems end. He is going through a very tough period in his life over the last six months, including a painful divorce from his wife.
Hugh and I left the FCA tent and were escorted by a Phillies official into the park and given a tour of the stadium. There is definitely a presence everywhere to showcase the current roster,
And yet at the same time, there is attention to detail almost wherever you look to honor the legacy of both past Phillies players and Philadelphia-based baseball players. There are inlays like this all over the floor in the entrance to the Diamond Club.
One of the Phillies taking a little batting practice in one of the two cages underneath the stands. We're peeking in through the glass from the Diamond Club.
About an hour before the game is supposed to start, and about half an hour or so until my closeup. The Phillies had just presented Hugh and I with jerseys and caps, with our names on the backs, and the numbers which represent the AM dial numbers of our two Philly stations. I'm wearing this jersey for the only night I'll be able to, as my son, the Troglodyte, will see this when I'm home and I'll never see it again.
Remember what I said about subplots? I'm looking about 20 feet ahead into the Braves dugout, where in spite of the fact that I get to throw the first pitch out, the Phillies and Braves are separated by only 1/2 a game in the NL East, and both are about a game or so out of the wild card race, so I'm listening to some of the Braves players and coaches talking.
On probably the largest screen I've seen as a sports park, there is another subplot going on this evening that we're just learning about. One of the legendary characters of Phillies baseball over the years was John Vukovich, who was a player for the Phillies, but also was the third base coach for several years. Vuk, as he's known, passed away from cancer earlier this year, and tonight, the team was going to honor him with a place in their Wall of Fame, complete with his surviving family on hand, as well as the other living members of the Wall of Fame, Bob Boone, Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, Dallas Green, and Robin Roberts.
By all accounts, he was a class act.
A touching tribute, with Phillies old and new reuniting as a family to honor the loss of one of their own. What am I doing here again?
Upstairs once again, we get to see the Ryan Howard model bat. For those of you caught up in the Barry Bonds asterisk/no asterisk debate, give it time. Barry Bonds will just be a blip on the history line in a few years. Alex Rodriguez is well on his way to top Bonds in the next 7 years or so, but this kid in Philly named Howard is the youngest to 100 home runs, and hits the ball a ton. If he stays healthy, and the team gives him any protection whatsoever in the order, he could blow away both Bonds and A-Rod before he's through.
It's getting close to showtime now. The Braves' batting practice is over, and the field crew is getting close.
All these Toyota convertibles are staging to take the Wall of Famers around the field once in a parade lap to add to the pregame festivities.
The Philadelphia skyline looking out over center field. The field itself is below street level, so the entire ground level cannot see this view. You have to be on one of the two upper decks.
Right after the skyline shot, we were told by our escort we had to get back to the field for the ceremony. We quickly went down an elevator, and minutes later were handed off to another Phillies staffer who took Hugh and I to the field. The lady in the shorts on the left is the stage director of the pregame ceremonies. She came over, asked if I was Duane, and handed me what's called a pearl, a brand new baseball that hasn't been rubbed up yet.
Now that I had the rock, I had to connect with the mound. It began calling out to me. Don't bounce it.
One more subplot to mix into the equation. Just a minute or so before this picture, and I apologize I don't have visual proof of this because again, Hugh had the camera, but I noticed a bespectacled gentleman walking right by us on the warning track from around the plate to this dugout. He looked remarkably like ABC pundit and Washington Post columnist George Will. That's because it was. I nudged Hugh and told him George Will just walked by him. Hugh, who was in a fog at that point because of his jockophobia working overtime being in this close proximity to professional athletes, heard the word pundit and immediately snapped out of it. He went over to Mr. Will and introduced us. We shook hands, and then Hugh asked what brought him to a Phillies-Braves game. George replied that he was doing a column in legendary umpire Bruce Froemming, who at 37 seasons is MLB's longest tenured umpire. Bruce's umpire crew happened to be in town doing this series, and Bruce had third base tonight. George was talking to people about Bruce.
Another legend. Bobby Cox, the fiery manager of the Atlanta Braves, is reviled by Hugh because he steered the Braves' defeat of the Indians in the World Series in 1995. Cox also had a streak of something like 12 division pennants in a row. He also has been thrown out of more games in his career than half of the current serving managers have wins.
The festivities have begun. When the public address announcer begins on the field wearing a full tuxedo, it's not a typical night at the park. In my head, a chorus of 'don't bounce it's' are running through my head. I'm windmilling my arm forward and backward to loosen it up in a hurry. I had been told for days that I would be throwing to the Phillies Phanatic, which is essentially a big, green, fuzzy Big Bird looking mascot, except he is nowhere to be found. So I think I still have some time. Wrong again. See the same lady in the brown shorts? About 10 seconds after this shot was taken, she came running around the stage that had been set up on home plate for the Wall of Fame speakers to come, pointed at me, and screamed, "Let's go!" Here, thanks to the videotaping talents of Hugh Hewitt, is the moment you've all been waiting for.
My catcher turned out to be Shane Victorino, the young right fielder on the Phillies who's been sidelined recently with a pulled calf muscle. The nice lady who just yelled at me to hurry up pointed me to the front of the mound. I cheated and started to go up top to toe the rubber, and then she gave me an evil eye. I stopped about halfway up. Victorino was about a foot or so in front of the plate. My total distance I had to carry today? about 55 feet. I chose the four seam fastball grip. Since there was a stage behind my catcher, complete with microphones, chairs and plants, and the fact that Victorino looked at me and said don't bounce it, I figured a high strike might be in order. Straight and true, just like I promised.
The still filing in Phillies crowd, famous for booing anything that moves, didn't boo me. Either that, or I was in the zone and successfully tuned them out. It was time to shake hands with my catcher for a successful pitch.
I have to say, that's pretty cool to have your name up in lights, even if nobody there has any idea who you are or why you're there.
It may not look like it on this particular shot, but I was told that at one point, there was an awful lot of Generalissimo filling up an awfully big screen, something which I'm pretty glad I didn't turn around and see.
Just happened to see this as we walked off the field and worked our way around to the seats three rows in behind first base. I know it's blurry, but I had just had a jolt of adrenaline that was still bleeding off, but still wanted to capture my new best friend Shane. It was very cool to be able to throw the pitch out, but I have to say, as I told Hugh, I felt now like I had just passed my final exams and was headed toward summer. I felt a huge sense of relief.
As for the game itself, it literally was two games in one. The first inning took about 40 minutes to play, but then the game settled down and only took a total of 2 1/2 hours to finish. In the top of the first, Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels got lit up for four runs on five hits, batting around in the order. But in the bottom of the first, the Braves' Chuck James got rocked as well, giving up four runs on five hits, letting the Phillies batting order up one time through. Then the game immediately turned into a pitcher's duel, with only one run on three hits combined for the next eight innings. In the bottom of the 7th, when the Phillies did actually score the eventual winning run, the Phillies Phanatic appeared to get the crowd fired up.
The trademark hex on the pitcher, which in this case, actually led to a base hit. The Phanatic is probably the most popular mascot in the majors now. It's hard to say if he's as popular here as the Chicken was in San Diego, but people here boo anybody and everything, and seem to like his shtick a lot.
And as the bell tolls over another Phillies win, Hugh and I reflected on a truly remarkable night. The game was great, and the festivities around the pitch were something we'll never forget. Many, many thanks go out to Russ Whitnah, David Handler and the rest of the team at WNTP, the folks at Fellowship of Christian Athletes for allowing me to piggyback onto their event, and the folks at Citizens Bank Park and the Phillies for being so hospitable. But mostly, thanks go to Hugh for being too big of a chicken to throw the pitch out himself, making my trip possible. As Hugh and I drove home, we realized I now have something up on my good friend Frank Pastore, who used to guest host for us until he joined the Salem radio family with his own Los Angeles based talk show, a man who pitched professionally as well for the Reds and the Twins. We are both radio professionals, but I can now safely say I've spent more time in The Show than he has in the 21st Century.
Duane "Generalissimo" Patterson is the producer of the nationally syndicated "Hugh Hewitt Show". In a sense Duane is "the man behind the curtain" -- and this is his blog.
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