Assuming Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg start Games 1 and 2 on the road, Patrick Corbin is the most likely candidate to throw the first pitch of the first World Series game in Washington since 1933 on Friday. The bigger question: Who takes the mound at Nationals Park before him?
Since the Nationals swept the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series on Tuesday, there has been plenty of speculation about who might throw the ceremonial first pitches at Washington’s three possible home World Series games.
“I think that’s an ownership decision, but it’s going to be somebody cool, and I have no idea,” Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said Thursday when asked about the pregame ceremonies by the Sports Junkies on 106.7 the Fan. “… With all of the homegrown, D.C. area people, like the Katie Ledeckys of the world, who was great when she threw it out, there’s a lot of different options. We’re going to come up with a bunch of cool people, and it’s going to be fun.”
Cool. Fun. While a fine tradition, the thought of a politician ushering in this year’s Fall Classic, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt did before Game 3 of the 1933 World Series at Griffith Stadium, is neither of those things. Here’s hoping the Nationals don’t bother extending an invitation to President Trump, who declined the opportunity to throw the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park on Opening Day in 2017, or White Sox fan Barack Obama or anyone who is likely to draw boos from a contingent of the crowd, which eliminates just about everyone on both sides of the aisle.
That said, here are 16 (mostly) serious candidates to consider:
My esteemed colleague and original Nationals beat writer Barry Svrluga suggested the team invite the entire 2005 squad back for the Fall Classic, which is a terrific idea. If you had to pick just one player, it should be Hernandez, who threw the first pitch in Nationals history, a called strike to Philadelphia’s Jimmy Rollins, on April 4, 2005, at Citizens Bank Park. Hernandez also started Washington’s first home game at RFK Stadium 10 days later and was one of two Nationals all-stars during the team’s inaugural season.
Robinson, the Hall of Fame slugger and first manager in Nationals history, died in February at 83. Barbara Ann Cole, his loving wife of 58 years, would be an inspired choice.
Walter Johnson’s grandson
Johnson was the greatest player in Washington baseball history. He won the American League MVP award for the second time in 1924, the year the Senators captured their only World Series title. “The Big Train” tossed a record 110 shutouts over his 21-year Hall of Fame career and later retired to a farm in Germantown, all of which is chronicled in a biography by his grandson, Henry W. Thomas. “Two things became clear,” Thomas told the Baltimore Sun in 1995 when asked what he learned writing a book about his grandfather. “His stature in the game was untouchable. I grew up thinking he was one of the great pitchers. That was not the case. He was the greatest pitcher. He was it. And there was just as much affection for him as a human being. They called him Sir Walter. It was almost as if he was regarded as somewhat of a saint.”
He won a World Series with the Phillies in 2008 and helped transform the Nationals into a perennial contender after signing a seven-year, $126 million contract with Washington before the 2011 season. “He’s the unsung hero of what we have become,” Rizzo said when Werth retired last summer. Werth’s walk-off home run in Game 4 of the 2012 National League Division Series remains one of the great moments in Nationals history. He attended Tuesday’s clincher and was reportedly scheduled to throw the ceremonial first pitch at Game 5 of the NLCS, which wasn’t necessary. Maybe he’ll get another chance.
Josh Gibson’s great grandson
Gibson was the greatest power hitter in Negro League history and spent most of his career with the Homestead Grays, who played home games at Griffith Stadium. The Hall of Famer is inducted in the Nationals’ Ring of Honor and is celebrated with a statue outside of Nationals Park. His great grandson, Sean Gibson, was in D.C. when a mural honoring Gibson and another D.C. baseball legend, Mamie “Peanut” Johnson, was unveiled outside Ben’s Chili Bowl before last year’s MLB All-Star Game.
Ledecky has done it before, including before Game 1 of the 2014 NLDS, but the five-time Olympic gold medalist, Bethesda native and OG Nationals fan always will be a great choice.
The 6-foot-7, 255-pound Howard, a.k.a. “Hondo” a.k.a. “The Capital Punisher” a.k.a. “The Washington Monument,” was a four-time all-star with the Senators and hit the team’s last regular season home run at RFK Stadium. He threw the ceremonial pitch before Game 4 of the 2012 NLDS.
An exception to the politicians ban, the former D.C. mayor was instrumental in negotiating the return of baseball to the District 33 years after the Senators left for Texas. “I’m elated,” Williams said after receiving the official word from Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig on Sept. 29, 2004. “ … Relieved. Satisfied. We put a lot of time into this, and it finally paid off.”
Given the current state of the franchise, you could argue that the Redskins don’t deserve this sort of shine during the World Series, but Gibbs remains one of the most beloved D.C. sports figures of all time. The three-time Super Bowl-winning coach led the “Let’s Go Caps!” chant at Capital One Arena during Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals last year.
After Toliver’s Mystics teammate, Elena Delle Donne, threw the ceremonial first pitch before Game 4 of the NLCS, the Nationals completed a sweep of the Cardinals. Toliver is a Virginia native who led Maryland to a national championship 13 years before she helped bring a WNBA title to D.C. Run it back and keep that Mystics championship mojo going.
The D.C. PR professional and former Senators announcer, who also announced every inaugural parade from 1957 through 2013, was 5 when a D.C. team last made the World Series. “It’s a dream, a real dream come true,” Brotman, 91, told NBC Washington of the Nationals being in this year’s Fall Classic. “We’ll be talking about this the rest of our lives, with a smile on our face."
From the celebrity fan category, you could do a lot worse than Maury, who was a spring-training batboy for the Senators and is the son of legendary Washington Post sports reporter and columnist Shirley Povich.
Credit to Washington Post sports columnist Kevin Blackistone for this idea. Andrés, the chef behind Jaleo, Oyamel, Minibar and other Washington-area restaurants, was nominated for a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his work with World Central Kitchen, the nonprofit group he founded after the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010 and that helped feed Puerto Ricans in the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Racing President Calvin Coolidge
Bigheaded politicians, in the literal sense, are fair game, and Cal makes a lot of sense. The actual president Coolidge threw the ceremonial first pitch at Game 1 of the 1924 World Series, which the Senators went on to win in seven games. Cal was added to the fourth-inning Presidents Race at Nationals Park on a one-year basis in 2015 as part of the Nationals’ partnership with the White House Historical Association. He has since retired to the team’s spring training facility in West Palm Beach.
Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals will be wrapping up a road trip in Vancouver during Game 3, but Captain, the team’s new service dog in training, should be available. He and Penny, the good dog Heather and Ryan Zimmerman adopted just before the Nationals clinched a wild-card spot, could combine for a memorable and lucky first pitch.
Who would you like to see throw the ceremonial first pitch at a Nationals World Series game? Leave your suggestions in the comments.
Ceremonial First Pitches in Nationals Playoff History
Game 4: Elena Delle Donne
Game 3: Medal of Honor recipient David Bellavia
Game 2: Army Sgt. Brian Keaton
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