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Monday, April 25, 2011

The Pitch

Saturday morning I woke up I really wasn't thinking about the pitch I would be making.  It wasn't a sales pitch.  However, waking up, my knees felt like Jell-O when I realized that thousands of people would be watching me on a field.

What pitch am I talking about? Because I raised the most money in the All Stars for Autism campaign I would get to throw out the first pitch at the Reds vs. Cardinals game.

Saturday morning I threw a baseball in front of the house to practice. It was raining, but I had not thrown a baseball since 1998 so the practice was much needed. The first several pitches I threw were low so I corrected that and had confidence.

Getting to Busch Stadium was a surreal feeling. I had been to games before, but never with the expectation of being on the field before the game! With each step I took I thought, "Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness!..."

When the time came we were led to the underworld of Busch Stadium. Truly it is an unseen world and the number of offices, meeting rooms, and cubicles would astound you. Eventually the maze was traversed and we made it to the "First Pitch" room.

I was in a highly anti-social mood as this picture shows (I'm the guy in the corner all by myself) and if you have heard me in a presentation you may remember my "Positional Warfare" that I talk about and I was in a major war. It was so bad that saying simple words were difficult. Many thoughts went through my head, "How do I look? How bad is the pitch going to be? Do I just go to the mound when they say?" Those questions and many more attacked me relentlessly.

In the First Pitch room I was informed that the a you boy named Jason Brooks, who was 2nd in fundraising, would also throw out a pitch before me. This fell on deaf ears because I was so consumed with what I was going to do that I didn't really hear anything going on around me.

Eventually it was time. We were led from the room to a hallway that led out onto the field from behind home plate. What did this hall look like? I can't recall one thing about it because I was so nervous. All my mind's DVR was off due to the over-processing of nerves. I do remember the contrast from going into a quiet, dark tunnel to the electric atmosphere that is Busch Stadium.

I'm used to standing in front of groups speaking, but this was different; there was no presentation and because of this I had no idea how I should be standing in the space I was in. I'm sure I looked either scared or emotionless because of this and I constantly scanned my surroundings trying to just appear comfortable (something I was not).

As the minutes ticked by I realized just how rare of a chance this was and I tried to soak it all in, but I kept wondering if my posture was right. Also, there were constant photos being taken, such as the one to the right. I tried to smile and thought I was, but after seeing the photos my smiles were not all that present.

After many more photos it was time. The group I was in was lined up on the warning track. Ron Ekstrand, CEO of TouchPoint, was on one end and I was on the other.  The introductions began of who was who and with what group they were with. As the names came down the line I began to worry because I didn't know if I was supposed to make any gesture when my name was called. I mean, do I raise my hand? Nod my head? What was I supposed to do? Panic set in and as soon as my name was called a big red bird tapped me on the shoulder.

This tap came from the Cardinals mascot, Fredbird, and he tapped as soon as the announcer said, "And raising the most funds is Aaron Likens" as if to say, "you?" I instantly smiled as it was such a relief because this game me direction. I nodded my head to reply and he pointed again and I nodded again and for some reason, at that very moment, I understood the area's love of baseball. Why did this happen? I don't know exactly, maybe I finally got over the fear I had, maybe I felt the atmosphere, whatever the case at that very moment I think I became a true fan of the sport of baseball.

Anyway, after several head nod exchanges with Fredbird he pointed to the mound. It was time. I then remembered that I would be going to the mound with the Jordan.  He was recently diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome like myself, and I knew he was more nervous than I was so I lead him and pointed to the mound.

During this time the world went away. My only concern was getting him to that mound, or somewhere close, to throw that ball. I did notice how amazing walking on the grass of a Major League ballpark was (trust me, standing on grass never felt so amazing!) but I was more focused on Jordan. We made it to the mound, but he seemed a bit concerned with the distance so I asked him if he would like to move up. He did so and proceeded to throw the ball towards home.

I find being around kids very awkward, but nobody there would have thought so. Maybe that's because I felt awkward as a kid. I wanted to throw the ball and remember that day so much that I didn't realize where I was standing; I was standing on the mound! I didn't notice I was in the heart of the stadium. My memories are very foggy of this, except for the Jordan's smile as the ball made it across the plate.

It was my turn, but the Jordan was standing in front of me. I was worried I'd hit him in the back of the head and the video shows me making a very contorted face and the exact thought going through my mind was, "Do I walk up and move him over a foot, or aim higher?" I was in a crisis of consideration and determined it'd be rude to walk forward, move him aside, and walk back. That being the case, I was happy I practiced because had I not I probably would have hit him in the back of the head and the amount of boos I would have received would have been much higher than those for Brandon Phillips of the Reds. Without thinking about it and with concern of form I threw the ball and it made it over the plate and the catcher, Skip Schmaker, had to stand to catch it, so it was a bit high, but over the plate.

After the throw I led Jordan towards home plate where more photos were taken and I think at this point in time I regained the ability to smile. Skip, Fredbird, Jordan, and I were all in the photo and then Skip shook my hand and just as fast as it began it was over.

We headed back to the underground world.  One person asked why I wore blue. The home team wears red, but since I got the chance to do this because of fundraising for autism, and since I'm on the spectrum, and it is Autism Awareness Month, I decided to "Light it up Blue" by wearing blue to the mound.

Moments like this come once a lifetime and while the Cardinals lost (I blame the rain delay in the 8th, as they forgot the, um, motivation I provided. Yeah, that's it), I was on the mound, and I got to make a little kid's day too. I have since been told he doesn't trust many people and his parents were shocked he went with me so all in all it was a true once in a lifetime chance. I would like to thank everyone who made this possible by donating. While I got to do this amazing thing the money raised is going towards helping those with autism.

I did mention video, my dad videotaped the experience and here it is.

 


4 comments:

  1. I am so proud of Aaron for being the top fund raiser for Autism Awareness Day. I am even more proud of how he became the leader for a little boy who was terrified. Jordan followed him to mound because he trusted Aaron. Jordan's dad is reading Aaron's book, Finding Kansas, and told me shortly before going onto the field that he has learned so much about Jordan because of Aaron's story. Aaron's pitch might have been high, but that's just like Aaron. AIM HIGH my son and enjoy the blessing that await you.

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  2. You just made me cry when you said, "My memories are very foggy of this, except for the Jordan's smile as the ball made it across the plate." I can't thank you enough Aaron. You are a remarkable person. Thank you for giving Jordan the courage to walk out there with you.

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  3. "Thank you for walking out with me. "

    -Jordan

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  4. I couldn't wait with reading this blogpost, so I read on up to here, making me very late for bed (it's 4:00 am right now), haha! Luckily it's a Sunday tomorrow.
    I'm very happy for you, as well as for Jordan! This must've been a great experience for you both that you both will remember for a lifetime.

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