BALTIMORE – Terry Virts threw his first pitch hard and fast to Jason Garcia. Virts was nervous about throwing the first pitch. He’d even watched comically bad first pitches on YouTube.
Throwing a first pitch shouldn’t have worried Virts. This is a man who spent several months aboard the International Space Station. Virts took an Orioles jersey with him when the mission began in Kazakhstan last November.
Just before the first pitch, Virts presented the jersey to manager Buck Showalter.
I'm not sure who's going to receive it. I thought about, you get paranoid about, do you wear rubber gloves to take it? It's not like it's been on the moon or something, right? But I think it's really cool when you stop and think about where it's been and the consideration,” Showalter said.
“It's an honor. It's pretty cool that he thought of us. The views must be unbelievable up there."
— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) September 15, 2015
Virts, who was born in Baltimore and raised in Columbia, Md., played baseball for Oakland Mills High School, “very badly,” he notes.
The 47-year-old, who went to the Air Force Academy, now lives in Houston grew up as a rabid Orioles fan. He went to ALCS games against the Angels in 1979 and also to the World Series.
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In Houston, he became friendly with Phil Garner, who managed his other favorite team, the Astros. Garner was the second baseman for Pittsburgh in 1979 when they beat the Orioles in the World Series.
In 1983, he got to go to the World Series as a hot dog vendor. He was working to raise money for a foreign exchange program his school was running.
“In between innings, I’d sneak down, take a look and go back to selling hot dogs,” Virts said.
Virts gave a NASA tour for the Orioles some years back and became friendly with Jeff Conine. He became friendly with then public relations director Bill Stetka and his successor, the late Monica Barlow.
He was clearly relishing his visit.
“On a nice night like tonight, there’s nowhere better to be in America than Camden Yards,” Virts said.
Virts was puzzled when asked if it was harder being an astronaut than a ballplayer.
“There are a lot more major league baseball players than there are astronauts…These guys are definitely more talented than astronauts are. Getting a chance to fly in space is an honor and privilege. There’ only been a few hundred people in human history who have done that. That’s been pretty fun, too,” Virts said.
Virts had some other things he wanted to give to the team, but his Orioles hat and a Matt Wieters T-shirt were far away.
“I’d love to give it to Matt, but it’s still in space.” Virts said.