I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday season and that you’re ready to tackle another year.
2012 was the third season of the Pitch for Awareness national tour and I pitched at five MLB ballparks:
- Washington Nationals – Nationals Park(May 2)
- Chicago Cubs – Wrigley Field (July 19)
- Seattle Mariners – Safeco Field (August 20)
- Chicago White Sox – US Cellular Field (September 12)
- New York Mets Citi Field (September 27).
Still need to pitch at: Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies, Kansas City Royals, L.A. Angels, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees,
Oakland Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, and San Francisco Giants
Here’s a summary of my season’s adventures…
In spring 2012 I returned to my hometown – Washington, DC – where I threw the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game on May 2 at Nationals Park.
My homecoming drew 60+ family and friends who all came out on a Wednesday evening. Folks from DC, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia,
Pennsylvania, and Delaware all showed up to support me. Thanks to all of you who attended the game!
Luckily I was able to drum up some good publicity for the pitch.
First an article ran in the Sunday edition of the Washington Post. To read,
Next, the local ABC affiliate (WJLA Channel 7) ran a story during their evening news the night before the game. To view,
The WJLA reporter also hosts a Sports talk program on their sister station, News Channel 8, and he invited me to be an in-studio guest the same
night. (Sorry – no video available.)
I was met Nationals Park by an ESPN video crew on Wednesday afternoon. They interviewed family and friends as part of the “E:60” segment they’ve
been working on since July 2011. Unfortunately, since that time, ESPN put my segment on the back burner until the 2013 season and production was
By far the best part of the day was my entourage that joined me on the field prior to the game. The group included my lovely wife (the 5th PFA pitch
she’s attended) and my brother (2nd pitch for him). But the star of the show was my 85-year-old mother. This was the first time she got to see me
pitch in person.
Mom first took me to Washington Senators games when I was just a boy. And she played catch with me in the backyard – allowing my imagination to
pretend I was playing in the World Series – while the other boys were off playing a game. She taught me to love the game of baseball.
Today she is an avid Nationals fan and it was a “dream come true” for her to be on the field – MY dream!
My pitch – a STRIKE! Despite having Screech, the team’s mascot – an American Eagle – as my catcher.
And for those who stuck around until the end, we got to experience a 2-run walk-off home run by Nats’ catcher Ian Desmond with 2 outs, and 2 strikes
in the bottom of the 9th inning. An amazing way to cap off an amazing day!
I stayed in Maryland for another week so that I could attend my niece’s graduation from nursing school. I took advantage of this time and visited two
elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school where I performed my school assembly “No Hands – No Arms – No Problem!” Five of the
six performances were complimentary, courtesy of the Washington Nationals. I try to conduct my school assembly in each city where I pitch as a way
to say “thank you” to the team for the invitation.
In early July I received a phone call from my friend Jessica Cox (www.rightfooted.com). Jess was also born without arms and, like me, learned to use
her feet for everything, including flying an airplane! That’s right – Jess is the first person ever licensed by the FAA to fly an airplane using her feet.
Jess lives in Arizona and was on her way to Chicago later that month where she planned to meet a group of friends for a long weekend. They wanted
to attend a Cubs game while there, so Jess contacted a reporter she knew in Chicago to try to hook her group up with tickets. In addition to tickets,
the reporter said he’d try to hook her up with a first pitch invitation.
Jess is well aware of my quest to pitch at all 30 MLB stadiums. In fact, she joined me at Chase Field in Phoenix a year before when I threw the first
pitch at an Arizona Diamondbacks game. To date, I had not yet crossed Wrigley Field off of my list. So Jess asked if I’d be interested in somehow
sharing the pitch with her. Knowing how difficult it would be for her friend to solicit a pitch invitation, I told her to give me a call if it ever came
Lo and behold, on Monday, July 16, Jess called again to tell me she was scheduled for the pitch that Thursday (July 19) at Wrigley Field. I immediately
jumped on-line and bought a 1-way flight to Chicago for Wednesday night.
Long story short – her plane arrived in Chicago at 5:00 pm on Thursday, giving her two hours to get to the stadium for a pitch before a night game.
However, no one involved noticed that the game that day was an AFTERNOON game, scheduled to start at 1:00 pm. And to compound the problem, the
Cubs started a road trip the next day and wouldn’t play at Wrigley for another week.
So the Cubs scheduled a pitcher without arms (Jess) for their game that day – but because of travel restrictions, she had to cancel. Luckily there was
another pitcher without arms (Tom) who flew in on Wednesday – the night before – and was available to serve as relief pitcher.
The on-going problem, however, was that even though Jess and I resolved the issue, I never received an official “OK” from the Cubs representative.
So “technically” the Cubs had Jess scheduled to pitch, they did not agree to the change, and I did not have a formal offer to throw the pitch.
Until the ballclub says ok, you are not scheduled to pitch. I learned this lesson the hard way – two years ago (2010) I travelled to Boston for a pitch at
Fenway Park. When I got there, I learned there was a misunderstanding - the Red Sox considered my availability to pitch at their Disability Awareness
event that day, but opted to invite a 10-year-old autistic boy who recently fought a bout with cancer. The information I received was incorrect. What
could I do? Luckily the Red Sox invited me back the next season and I pitched at Fenway on July 7, 2011).
I decided to take a gamble and flew 1-way to Chicago on Wednesday.
Another lesson learned the hard way – never fly in for an event the same day. If at all possible, plan to arrive the day before. You just never know
what tricks Mother Nature – or the airlines – have up their sleeves.
My flight was scheduled to arrive at 11:59 pm on Wednesday night at O’Hare airport. After airline delays, we finally touched down at 2:00 a.m. I
reserved a room at the Days Inn that was near the airport, but they did not offer shuttle service. So I stood in line for another 30 minutes at O’Hare
waiting to catch a cab – and the cab driver proceeded to get lost. The driver did not have GPS – only a small book of maps. It took him nearly an hour
to complete the 7 mile / 10 minute trip.
All this time there was still no guarantee that I would pitch.
I checked in at the Days Inn, got to my room, and logged into my e-mail account. Finally – the message I had waited for from the Cubs. They
understood the situation and would be happy to have me serve as a relief pitcher!!!
The game started at 1:00 pm. I received my formal invitation / confirmation less than eight hours before the first pitch. Whew! I set two alarm clocks
and crashed in my bed.
The next day I arrived at Wrigley about an hour before the game. Unfortunately, because of all the craziness, I was unable to find the time or a place
to toss some warm-up pitches. So when it was time for my first pitch, I hit the mound cold. Big mistake!
(For highlights, link here – http://www.tomsfeet.com/PFA/blog-2012-07-25.html)
If you’ve seen me pitch, you know I hold the ball in my right foot then bring it forward with my right leg, skimming the ball just above the dirt. If the ball
is too low it can hit the dirt surface and affect the velocity and/or trajectory of my pitch. During my pitch at Fenway Park (Boston) the ball lightly
skimmed the dirt which drastically altered my pitch, and it bounced on the ground six feet in front of the catcher. In my blog I named this “fail” pitch
the Fenway Flop.
Then there’s the worst case scenario – this happened a few times during practice. If the ball hits the dirt surface as I bring it forward, the contact can
pull the ball completely out of my foot. This destroys the trajectory of the pitch and it rolls on the ground to the catcher. This horrible pitch is, by far,
my most embarrassing pitch failure.
Back to the mound at Wrigley… The ball was clean. The surface was even. My catcher was a real baseball player, not a person in a mascot suit.
Everything was good to go – except me. I was still wired from the craziness of the week that I did not concentrate on the mechanics of my pitch. The
ball hit the ground and rolled to the catcher. The worst case scenario just happened. The Wrigley Roll!!!
I dropped my head in shame and walked to the catcher. I took the ball from him and said, “No, that was unacceptable. Let’s do this again.”
He went back to the plate. I went back to the mound and the crowd began to cheer. I took a deep breath and threw a second pitch. Of course, I
overcompensated to be sure the ball cleared the dirt, causing my pitch to sail wide to the right. But it was much better than my failed first attempt.
To see the "Wrigley Roll"
Needless to say, as someone who expects to throw a strike, I wasn’t pleased with the final result. But at the link above, you’ll see the video of both
pitches, along with this ESPN reporter's commentary:
“Unfortunately, the ball slipped out of Willis’ toes initially. I love how Willis insisted on a redo. The second time was the charm. He did a much better job
than I could have done.” – Brian Noe, ESPN Radio, Albany, NY
During my school assembly “No Hands – No Arms – No Problem!” I demonstrate how I put on a hat – I flip it in the air and it lands on my head. However
when I demonstrate this to the students, I intentionally miss on my first attempt. I tell students that things don’t always work right the first time, and
they should always try again. I then flip the hat in the air and it lands on my head. TRY AGAIN!
Compliments of the Chicago Cubs, I now have the perfect pitch video that demonstrates my “try again” message. Even though my first pitch was a
disaster, the opportunity to throw a second pitch provided a great teachable moment.
To be continued….
|Again, many thanks for your continued support of the PFA tour!
Happy New Year!