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Helen Maroulis gets help from Cal Ripken Jr. on first pitch

Helen Maroulis

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 18: Helen Louise Maroulis of the United States celebrates after defeating Saori Yoshida of Japan during the Women’s Freestyle 53 kg Gold medal match on Day 13 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 2 on August 18, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

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It would be memorable for any D.C. area person to throw a pitch to Cal Ripken Jr. Helen Maroulis can say she did it twice, with a great story behind it.

Maroulis, a Maryland native who in Rio became the first U.S. women’s wrestling champion, visited the Aberdeen IronBirds to throw a ceremonial first pitch Thursday as part of her tour of area pro sports teams.

Her catcher was none other than Ripken, the IronBirds owner, who said he had never before caught a pitch from an Olympic gold medalist. (A little surprising given Michael Phelps is a noted Ripken fan)

Maroulis, who lifted Teddy Roosevelt at a Washington Nationals game but did not throw a first pitch last week, practiced with Ripken in the bullpen before her pitch Thursday.

Once she got to the more sloped pitcher’s mound, her ceremonial toss bounced once before reaching Ripken, well off the plate. Rather than accept it, the Baltimore Orioles legend lofted the ball back to Maroulis and told her to try again.

“It felt incredible, but you know what, I’m more happy about the lessons I got beforehand,” Maroulis told the Baltimore Sun. “No one saw that, but Cal is awesome, so I don’t know if I would have gotten that to home plate without him.

“If Cal’s throwing you the ball back, you better get it right the second time. So I was going for broke at that point.”

Maroulis felt butterflies, just like she does before wrestling matches. Ripken sensed it.

“It’s nerve-wracking going out on the field and throw, if it’s not what you do,” Ripken said. “We practiced down here in the bullpen, and we measured it off down there to see if she could do it, and she took it all the way to 60 feet. I didn’t tell her about the slope of the mound, it kind of messed her up the first time, so we had to have a take two.”

Maroulis and Ripken then shared a Maryland tradition, cracking steamed crabs.

Last Saturday, Maroulis gave the Baltimore Ravens a pre-game, locker-room speech. On Friday, she is to throw a first pitch at a Baltimore Orioles game.

MORE: Maroulis’ rival from Japan decides not to retire