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Half the world by now has seen Dr. Anthony Fauci's attempt to throw out the ceremonial first pitch of that Washington Nationals game (and MLB season opener) the other day.

The smallish infectious-disease specialist clad in a Nationals jersey cocked his right arm and flung the ball almost dead left with an off-balance lunge. The catcher bolted halfway to first base to pick it up. Television made great hay with Fauci's wayward toss. But the next day, he was presented with his own baseball card.

Some laughed. Others ridiculed the nation's best-known immunologist. One man said he wouldn't want the good doctor performing delicate surgery on any of his internal organs.

On the other hand, I have felt the man's embarrassment and pain. In other words, there was no joy in Fauci's Mudville for this veteran first-pitcher.

You see, 15 or so years ago I was asked to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Razorback game in Baum Stadium. The newspaper was sponsoring events at the park that evening. I was assigned to assume the pitcher's mound after colleagues around me had wisely declined.

They apparently believed there was risk to one's self-esteem should something go awry before several thousand fans with judgmental eyes trained on their abilities.

And so it was with Mike (the undaunted risk-taker) when I tossed out what will always be remembered with a wince as "the pitch" that exposed me as surely as if my jeans had somehow slipped to my ankles in mid-throw.

In preparation, I'd spent part of that afternoon throwing a baseball in the backyard. A friend had coached me on the proper technique. Slowly cock your arm, reach back directly and release the ball at my hand's furthest extension directly toward the plate. You know, golfers, kinda like following through on a putt toward the hole.

So I threw, threw and threw until late afternoon, and I felt certain I could pull off the assignment. I wouldn't say I became cocky. No, it was more like a confidence in my freshly honed ability.

As evening settled in and we arrived at the stadium, the seats were rapidly filling. I felt a small knot gathering in the pit of my stomach. It swelled as the time drew near. "Remember, wind up, rear back and release the ball directly in front of you toward home plate," I repeated softly to myself.

And lo it came to pass in the Land of Hogs that I took a long stroll to the pitcher's mound with the game announcer blaring my name as the person who'd be throwing out the evening's ceremonial first pitch.

Some fans waved. Others shouted. Several friends with expectations had gathered to cheer me on. Coach Dave Van Horn had shaken hands and wished me the best. I almost thought I was starting on the mound in street clothes that night.

So I waved back at the crowd as the Hogs catcher ran up and handed me the ball. then returned to assume his position behind home plate and await my blistering fastball searing into his glove. The crowd grew quiet. I swallowed hard. The moment was upon me.

"Just remember to do what you've been doing all afternoon," was my final thought while anxiously rubbing the ball with both hands. At this point I just wanted to throw my impressive strike and walk off the field with a broad smile and one-armed Richard Nixon wave.

What I vividly recall of the next few seconds went like this: I drew way back, just as I'd practiced, and brought my right arm around hard, also as practiced. What I hadn't practiced was releasing the ball from my grip about the time it was even with my right hip. Another golf analogy would be shanking a relatively simple approach shot.

The horror of seeing the white ball sail off under the lights toward the right dugout rather than home plate can only be compared to a bad dream. Wait, better make that a nightmare. It struck ground somewhere about the third-base line and kept rolling, rolling and rolling.

The poor catcher was sprinting as fast as he could to glove it. But the deed was done. I suddenly understood in all humility why I was selected to be the one pitching that night as others around me called the Hogs, wolfed down hog dogs and belly-laughed.

As the ball was retrieved, I took a moment to stare into the darkening sky and ask. "Why me, Lord?" Then I did what any newspaper guy willing to make a fool of himself would do. I took a bow, shook my head and laughed at myself.

My advice, whether you are an M.D. pandemic specialist or journalist, a butcher, baker or candlestick maker, if you ever are assigned to throw out a first pitch one day, don't bother practicing. It's so much wiser just to find an excuse, any excuse. There's little doubt Dr. Fauci would agree.

I do have one point of gratitude for that evening. At least my performance, unlike his, wasn't captured on film for the world to analyze and enjoy. Several thousand Razorback fans were plenty for me.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

--–––––v–––––--

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

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