Olympians throwing ceremonial first pitches, a brief history
Olympic bronze medalist bobsledder Aja Evans sought advice before throwing out the first pitch on Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago on Monday.
She knew just the person to ask -- her uncle, retired MLB outfielder Gary Matthews -- among others. The best advice?
“Aim high,” she said.
Evans got the job done, getting the ball over the plate before the White Sox-Twins game. Other Sochi Olympians were throwing out first pitches this week, including hockey silver medalists Brianna Decker and Jessie Vetter and skeleton bronze medalist Matt Antoine at Miller Park in Milwaukee on Monday.
Olympic ski slopestyle bronze medalist Nick Goepper is slated to throw out the first pitch at the Reds’ first night game Wednesday.
There have been some fabulous and, more memorable, forgettable first pitches by Olympians over time. It is common for Olympic stars to throw first pitches at MLB games shortly after the Summer or Winter Games finish.
The most notable is certainly nine-time Olympic track and field champion Carl Lewis, who has run the gamut in at least three ceremonial first pitches in MLB and NCAA baseball. He bounced the ball to home plate, airmailed another pitch and gave up entirely and sprinted from the pitcher’s mound, as detailed in this video post last year.
One must sympathize the most with artistic gymnasts, who are among the least trained Olympians when it comes to throwing a baseball 60 feet at a strike-zone target.
“Hopefully I’ll make it to the catcher,” 2008 Olympic champion Shawn Johnson once said.
She had trouble doing so at an Iowa Cubs game near her home in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2010, but was respectable when moving in front of the mound for a throw at Dodger Stadium in 2009.
Fierce Five gymnast Jordyn Wieber stepped in front of the mound and made it to home plate on one bounce at a Detroit Tigers game after the 2012 Olympics, doing so with a boot on her right foot due to stress fracture.
Three of Wieber’s teammates, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross, threw simultaneous first pitches at Dodger Stadium in 2012. Maroney, the high-flying vault world champion, was the only one to do so from the pitching rubber and clearly had the strongest arm.
The multi-talented eight-time Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno showed a stellar windup and accuracy on this first pitch, also at Dodger Stadium.
Swimmer Jason Lezak looked calm and collected throwing a smooth, but not particularly fast, accurate strike in LA. Another swimmer, Jessica Hardy, risked throwing her pitch while wearing her two 2012 Olympic medals.
Ice dancing silver medalist Ben Agosto received a perfect score from the judges, according to the stadium announcer, for his first pitch at Safeco Field in 2012.
Even Yuna Kim has thrown out a first pitch, at a South Korean baseball game while wearing a “2018" jersey for the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Three-time Olympic basketball champion Diana Taurasi was just a bit outside on a throw at Chase Field.
“A little wild thing,” Taurasi said. “I wanted to throw it with a little heat.”
Then there are the quirky first pitches we saw out of South Korea last year -- rhythmic gymnast Shin Soo-ji‘s whirligig pitch that has received more than 11 million YouTube views and 2012 gold medalist archer Ki Bo-bae, who made a mascot whiff with a bow-and-arrow pitch.