Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser has been a baseball fan since he was 4 years old. “My brother sat me at the side of the community pool and said, ‘You’re not swimming until you memorize the Yankees lineup.’ ”
So the kid from New Rochelle, N.Y., was thrilled to be invited to throw out the first pitch at Saturday’s Washington Nationals game. Until he realized he’d have to throw out the first pitch.
“All the sudden, people started telling me I had to practice,” he told us. He thought the ceremonial toss was just a few feet from the catcher. Nope — he had to throw from in front of the pitcher’s mound, some 55 feet from home plate.
Advice poured in: Ken Cen chairman David Rubenstein told him, ”Don’t wear dress shoes” — because Rubenstein wore dress shoes when he did the pitch. (Seriously.) Another friend told him: “It’s better to throw high than low.” A third: Smile when you throw, because that’s when your friends take pictures.
The First Pitcher is chosen based on the themes and groups at the ballpark, with an emphasis on inviting local VIPs. The team asked Kaiser because Saturday was “Opera Day” at the park; he joins Presidents Obama and George W. Bush, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey, Washington Wizards’ John Wall, Olympian Apolo Ohno, NASCAR driver Kurt Busch and others invited to toss out the pitch at Nats games.
Kaiser recruited two coaches — staffers on the Ken Cen softball team — and practiced outside his office. Distance, he found, wasn’t the problem. Accuracy, though, was.
The pitch almost didn’t happen: Rain threatened to postpone Saturday’s game, but the sun broke through and Kaiser (Nats jacket, jeans and sneakers) nervously walked to the mound accompanied by applause from his personal cheering section of 20 or so friends.
He wound up and threw. The ball went went about two-thirds to home plate. . . and hit the dirt. “But it was straight, anyway,” he told us afterward. Fun? “Oh, it’s so much fun! I’m thrilled.”
In case you’re wondering: Kaiser ducked when asked whether the Yankees are still his favorite team. “I can’t say that in Washington,” he told us. “The Yankees are my favorite American League Team.“