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Championship Night and a perfect strike

Jul 2, 2017 By Scott Akanewich, Sports Editor

So, there I was.

Standing atop the mound on the southwest field at Saban Little League Complex in Riverton on Thursday night, with a baseball in my hand and a plan in my head.

See, the good people on the board of Riverton Little League had bestowed upon me the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the majors championship game between the Cardinals and Giants.

Certainly an honor, and I was going to make the most of it.

Sure, I played baseball back in the day, but I never pitched.

Except once -- and for good reason.

As a kid, it seems everyone wants to be either a pitcher or a shortstop and play the latter while not engaged in the former.

Of course, I was different.

I always dreamed of being a center fielder, roaming the great, green expanse in the middle of the outfield, gracefully making spectacular catches and rifling out runners with a rocket arm.

In my first season of Little League when I was 8, I was on the Yankees. It just so happened I was issued No. 7.

Mickey Mantle's number with the Bombers during storied his Hall-of-Fame career.

Didn't he play center field in the Bronx with a flair, aplomb and a panache not seen since the DiMaggio days?

In fact, I was so excited when the coach read off the lineup before the game, I jumped for joy while simultaneously letting out a whoop a rodeo cowboy (a harbinger of my sports destination some four decades later? You decide) would be proud of.

My teammates probably thought I was crazy as I gleefully sprinted to my new defensive home.

Not a stretch.

Anyway, to make a long story short, after a few innings of my very first game, I quickly realized there was a definite reason certain kids are stationed in the outfield at that embryonic stage of learning the game, and it's not to take advantage of their sublime skills.

So, at the next practice, I voiced my concern to my coach and he sent me to first base, where I remained for the rest of my "career."

With the exception of one fateful day at another practice the following season when I decided to see what all the shouting was about.

So, I pitched batting practice. Let's just say it didn't go so well.

I thought that was it for my time as a hurler and I'm pretty sure my coach thought the same.

Until one game where our pitcher was injured and was forced from the game in the middle of an inning.

So, coach looks over to me at my customary spot on first, motions me over, and tosses me the ball.

Yikes.

I don't remember how many outs there were, or even what happened after that -- it was all a slow-motion blur, only usually that means you're in the zone -- which I was -- the Twilight Zone.

Eventually the inning ended, and that was definitely the end of my mound exploits.

Until Thursday.

Riverton Little League umpire-in-chief Sean Peterson had extended me the invitation earlier in the week, so I had time to think about it after humbly accepting.

"Just do better than the mayor did," Sean said, after I agreed to the occasion.

After almost being killed by flying iceballs on my way to Ethete earlier on Thursday afternoon, but somehow escaping injury or vehicular damage, I figured it was my day to shine, even if the sun wasn't.

So, I rolled up to Saban full of confidence.

Only question at this point was who would I emulate?

Noah Syndergaard? Clayton Kershaw? Madison Bumgarner?

Or do I go old-school with Nolan Ryan, Bob Gibson or Sandy Koufax?

Decisions.

Yeah, it would be Kershaw I would channel.

But, then I realized, "Wait, I can't be Kershaw -- I'm not left-handed!"

You know what they say about the best-laid plans.

So, after much consternation, I simply decided to be myself.

As the moment grew closer, nerves began to creep into my psyche, as I envisioned bouncing one to the backstop.

Just do better than the mayor.

I can do this -- no sweat.

Following the national anthem, I was introduced, and my big moment was at hand.

Cardinals starter Hunter Hauck handed me a game ball and I motioned for a meeting with my catcher, Jason Vincent.

You know, just to go over the signs.

"Okay, so one is fastball, two is curve, three is slider and four is change-up, right?" I asked. "Better go with the fastball."

So I take the mound (and I actually did climb the bump as opposed to standing out in front closer to the plate like most dignitaries do on such occasions -- oh no, I'm all in, the full 60 feet, 6 inches), toed the rubber, and looked in for the sign.

Jason wagged his right index finger, signaling for the ol' heater.

Hmmm.

"Maybe I should shake him off and go with a yellow hammer or break off a slide piece, instead," I thought.

No, a fastball it was -- a two seamer, in fact.

So, I came set, pitching from the stretch, and fired a bullet right down Broadway, baby.

Vincent's mitt popped with sound, and a mighty echo roared throughout the ballpark as cowhide settled into leather.

Mission accomplished, with an accompanying fist pump to accentuate my success.

At that precise moment in time, I was Big Baller.

Oh, yes, I was Big Baller.

In all seriousness though, many thanks to the Riverton Little League board for allowing me to enjoy such an awesome experience.

Best part is I didn't need a disabled list stint, like so many major league luminaries do these days for the slightest bump or bruise.

But, that's a conversation for another time.

Which leaves me with one question.

How many baseball beat writers get to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at any level?

Only one I know of.

Very cool.

Which leads us to our next bit of business.

Three stars

Championship Week produced many memories of a lifetime for local baseball-playing sparkies, but only a select few can make the grade, so here we go.

No. 3

Parker DeVries, Riverton Little League Giants

DeVries played the role of Batman for the Giants in their majors championship game victory, driving in five runs, including legging out a triple as part of a 3-for-5 performance at the plate.

Well done.

No. 2

Brodie Dale, Riverton Little League Giants

What DeVries was at the plate for the Giants, Dale was on the mound, striking out 11 Cardinals batters across 4 2/3 innings on the mound and oh, by the way, was also no slouch at the other end, going 3-for-3 at the plate.

Excellent.

No. 1

Jonny Kulow, Lander Little League Mariners

I'm pretty sure even Randy Johnson never hit a home run in a game in which he racked up 13 strikeouts for the big-league version of the Mariners (mostly because the American League employs the dreaded designated hitter -- another conversation for another time -- but work with me).

But, that's exactly what the lanky Kulow did in Lander's Little League equivalent of Game 7 of the World Series on Wednesday, as his Mariners defeated the Emeralds by a score of 7-3.

Eat your heart out, Big Unit.

Very cool, indeed.

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Here I showed Cardinals starting pitcher Hunter Hauck how it's done from the mound. Photo by Steve Peck

Here I showed Cardinals starting pitcher Hunter Hauck how it's done from the mound. Photo by Steve Peck


Here I showed Cardinals starting pitcher Hunter Hauck how it's done from the mound. Photo by Steve Peck

Here I showed Cardinals starting pitcher Hunter Hauck how it's done from the mound. Photo by Steve Peck

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2017-09-22