TNY Main


First Pitch                                                     Andrea Laurion






My sister moved to Arizona this summer and before she left, I gave her a t-shirt as a goodbye present. “Pittsburgh, City of Champions,” it said in large type. Underneath, as an afterthought, was the final script: “And the Pirates.” She wasn’t even gone three months when the joke of that shirt became a dated reference.


        The 2013 Pirates season ignited baseball fever in this city unlike any I had ever seen. Well, actually, I had probably witnessed this energy when the team last made the playoffs in 1992, but it didn’t involve My Little Ponies, so my seven-year-old self had very little interest.


        And for a long time, the city didn’t care much either. The losing seasons added up. The successes of the Pens and Steelers captured everyone’s attention. That pony-loving second grader eventually grew up, graduated from three different schools, and achieved notable life milestones as the Pirates collected loss after loss.


        Eventually, I ended up working for a Western Pennsylvania newspaper chain as an obituary writer. It was the sort of job that impressed strangers while masking my complete lack of editorial power. Three years ago, a corporate email popped up through an ocean of death notices in my inbox. As a media sponsor of the Pirates, the company held a drawing every spring for one employee to throw the first pitch at a game. It was all the clichés: once in a lifetime, golden opportunity, a dream come true. Time to find the big winner for 2010.


        It wasn’t my dream. I dreamed of literary success, a witty soul mate, and beautiful strawberry-scented horses that never took a shit. I wanted to make it through the day without adding more coffee stains to my sweater. Still, I like chances and I like silly contests which require zero effort. I’ll probably blow my Social Security checks on scratch offs someday, but for now, I quietly submitted my name, sending an email into the vast internet black hole of possibility.




        A week had past and I was late for work, my hair still damp, wearing clothes I hated. My mood was stormy. I grumbled to my desk. A piece of paper was taped to my computer screen with a Post-It note.


        “Congratulations to Andrea Laurion, the winner of our First Pitch Contest,” it read.


        No, no, no. Yes. Me. Oh, God.


        I thought it was a joke until I saw the congratulatory email in my own inbox, and the accompanying half-dozen emails that echoed those sentiments. I felt mostly sick, but also partly proud. People stopped by throughout the day to wish me luck and offer congrats.


        “Thank you,” I said, as if I had actually worked hard to achieve this.


        After the rest of the office cleared out, I tossed a container of Play-Doh with my co-worker, Jeff. Tall with confidence and athletic grace, he went to every home opener with his dad, his face and neck crimson the next day. Years later, he told me how jealous he was of me for winning, but on this evening, he was preparing me for my public sporting debut. One of the stipulations of entering the contest was that the winner couldn’t pass it off to anyone else--I alone was the only one who could do this. We had three days to get ready.


        My throwing skills were abominable. I’d squandered the one opportunity to improve them by spending the high school gym classes devoted to baseball sitting in the outfield making dandelion chains. The teacher would yell at me from the dugout to go after the ball, I’d stay sedentary, yell back that I was on it, and I always got As. I like to think he appreciated our routine and my comedic timing.


        “You have to swing back and follow through,” Jeff said. “You’re just short arming it.”


        “I don’t want to break anything,” I said, meaning both myself and anything inanimate.


        The next day we upgraded to a real baseball and moved out into the parking lot. Our rough estimate of the 60 feet from pitcher’s mound to home plate was much farther than I thought it would be.


        Jeff threw it back and I dodged it, letting the ball bounce down the parking lot. “I don’t want to catch it without a glove.”


        “It’s okay,” he said, both bored and patient. “Just throw it back.”


        I reached all the way back and threw, kicking up my right leg as I did so. It came close to Jeff, but bounced in front of him first. “That’s pretty good,” he said.


        “I really don’t want it to hit the ground,” I said, as I chased after the ball Jeff tossed back.


        “You’ll be fine,” he said, “Just follow through.”


        I watched a few videos of celebrity first pitches on YouTube as a way to psych myself up. Mariah Carey’s resonated the most. Led on the field by two big-headed orange mascots, she threw the first pitch at a game in Japan while two commentators gave the play-by-play in Japanese, her name the only recognizable words to me. Wearing platform high heel tennis shoes and short-shorts, she didn’t so much throw the ball as let it bounce from her hand on to the ground, nowhere near home plate. She put her hands to her face in mock fluster, flashing a smile. It was more than her lack of athletic ability that I saw myself in her. Just before throwing, she shook her head, pursing her lips in a way that said exactly what she couldn’t say out loud: I can’t believe I’m doing this.


        Mariah can sing in a five octave range. I spent half my time in the obit department apologizing for typos. She is loved by thousands. I am not.


        I was not going to be fine.







        Three days later, game day. Friday, 5:18 p.m, and I was vehicularly paralyzed downtown. Three buses in front of me and four behind. A spinach particle stuck in the teeth of public transportation. Game time was set for 7:05. I was supposed to be there at 5:05. I wasn’t nervous anymore about throwing the ball as much as getting there before the game started.


        My mother called. After a few minutes of fretting, she told me to pull up across the street from PNC Park, where my dad would jump in and park my car for me, my own personal valet. My car taken care of, I walked through a side door and up to a security guard standing next to a folding table.


        “I’m here to throw the first pitch,” I said to the guard. I was slightly breathless and sweaty from running up the sidewalk. My clothes were hanging from my hands, already wilted. I had received strict instructions on my required attire for the evening.


        My tardiness cost me a stink eye. He left to find the people in charge while I changed from jeans into a skirt. Apparently, the All-American material was not professional enough for baseball.


        My parents were waiting for me outside the bathroom and I handed my bag of clothes to them. My sister was coming with me as my +1 and designated purse holder. A short woman in black pants and a flowery shirt walked toward us. The name badge around her neck bounced like it was in a hurry too.


        “You’re Andrea?” she said. “We almost didn’t think you’d come.” She handed me a guest pass and we followed her back down the hallway.


        I apologized and babbled about traffic and buses. She gave me a tight smile.


        “It’s okay,” she said. “That’s why we ask people to get here two hours early. Because we know they’re going to be late.”


        Underground, everything was bare with plain concrete and pipes lining the ceiling. No players, nothing interesting. It was pretty unremarkable. We walked down a few concrete steps, past a trainer’s room, through a doorway to a tunnel and on to the ball field.


        The strangest part was how small everything looked from the field. The seats seemed so far away and the few people sitting in them so fragile. The buildings across the river weren’t real but a cardboard movie backdrop. My sister and I amused ourselves by taking pictures of each other.


        The game was early in the season, on a rainy April Friday, and it happened to be the same night as a playoff game for the Penguins. The city’s focus was across the river. There couldn’t have been more than 30 people in the stands. The sea of blue seats with an occasional cluster of human beings made the people look like survivors of a shipwreck.


        The grey clouds hung above us, a threat. Within five minutes, the clouds made good on their promise. The field was covered in a blue tarp to save the special sand from absorbing the evil rain and the rest of us took refuge in the dugout.


        The woman who led us to the field began whining about her sobriety.


        “I just want a beer,” she said. “God, I wish I was drunk.” A few seconds passed and then she repeated herself.


        There wasn’t anything else to do but stare at the rain as it fell in front of us. Other than a few pirate-emblazoned towels and big buckets of bubblegum, the dugout was a sparse place. I also wished I was drunk, but kept these feelings to myself. I tossed the baseball they gave me from one hand to the other.


        I was bored. Cold. Wet. I was sitting in the dugout of a professional baseball team and I wished I could be anywhere else. At a bar with my friends. Watching a movie. I’d even take being at work. The selfishness of this situation never hit me until much later. To paraphrase the film The Devil Wears Prada, a million fans would kill for this chance. And here I was, waiting for it to be over.


        Five minutes passed into fifteen, which bled into a half hour, until finally, more than an hour past game time, the skies clear, it was time to play ball.


        The nerves left me while we waited and now they crept in again as the tarp was pulled away and the action started up. The boredom haze hanging heavily over the dugout was replaced with a thick, humid fog.


        “Okay, you’re going on,” said the unfortunately sober woman. I handed my purse to my sister and clutched the baseball over my chest, all ten fingers holding it as gingerly as if it was my own heart.


        “Thanks to our sponsor tonight....” boomed the voice of the announcer. That was my cue. “Representing the company is Andrea Laurion, here to throw the first pitch.” Under the lights, the field looked bigger and much more important. I stood on the grass in front of the mound. I wanted it to look like I didn’t want to step in the wet sand, but really, standing on the grass put me at least five feet closer. The player who was having a catch with me was cute and tall with blonde curly hair. Poor Curls. I really hoped I didn’t hit him in the face. Or let the ball hit the ground. I really, really, really didn’t want it to hit the ground. Even more than hitting him in the face, if I can be honest.


        I couldn’t tell you the name of the player who was assigned to catch my throw. Nor do I recall exactly how long I stood there. All I know is I took that ball, cocked back my arm and threw, my leg kicking up again. The ball sailed through the air, high and outside. It was as far from the ground as my arm could release it and I felt relief beating through my heart with each pound. High and outside was better than low and on the ground.


        Curls ran up to me and gave me back the ball. “A little high,” he said in a kind voice. A photographer called out to us and snapped a photo, which I’ve never seen. And in that flash, it was over. The buildup was the best part, just like Christmas and TV series finales.




        Walking back to the tunnel, I saw a little kid sitting in the stands a seat or two away. He was preschool age and couldn’t sit still from excitement. I hadn’t felt half his enthusiasm my entire time at the ballpark. I bet he would have loved to spend an hour in that dugout. I wanted to turn back and give him the baseball I just threw, but I kept walking with the rest of the group. I mentioned my desire to give away the ball to my sister, who was horrified. She in turn told my parents when we met them a few minutes later in the stands. They thought I was nuts.


        “Why would you give it to him?


        “I don’t know,” I said. “I just thought he would really like it.”


        That ball now lives in a drawer in my nightstand. I still feel a little guilty that it doesn’t have a better life with someone who would actually treasure it.






Andrea Laurion is a writer, improviser, and performer. She lives in Lawrenceville with her cat, Harold.



Illustration by Emily Emaline