One of America’s most notable sporting traditions is the ceremonial first pitch. It is done before every baseball game and those who have the distinction of throwing it have come from every walk of life. Nobel Prize winners, astronauts, athletes, politicians, you name it. Someone from every profession has done it.
Every single President has done it going back to the early 1900s with the exception of Donald Trump. It is so synonymous with American politics that television shows starring fictional presidents such as The West Wing and House of Cards have featured it in various episodes. George W. Bush throwing a first pitch at the World Series is seen as one of the defining moments in America’s healing process following the September 11th, terrorist attacks.
And of course Olympians do it as well. If you are an American athlete and achieve even a moderate level of fame/success at the Olympics, you will most likely throw a first pitch. But it is the gymnasts that stand out.
Many try to stand out when they throw a first pitch, but it’s hard to do so without props. Most athletes need props such as balls, shoulder pads, skates, or hockey sticks. In the case of Michael Phelps, he needs water. But gymnasts don’t need props to let the world know they are high level athletes. All they need is their body where an acrobatic stunt is enough to impress.
One of my favorite things about the sport of gymnastics is the originality. A gymnast has dozens, if not hundreds of different moves to chose from when they pick the very first move of their routine. The same can be said for each of the remaining moves in their routine. With billions of different options to create a routine, no two routines are alike. It is theoretically possible for your average nine year old gymnast to create her own routine and be the first and only one to do all her chosen moves in that specific order and style. Gymnastics is a sport that drives originality and creativity.
The same can be said for when a gymnast throws a first pitch. With so many different acrobatic options to choose from, any time a gymnast does it you can expect something different. All while gymnasts are the only ones trying to be original whereas most first pitches follow the same basic format. In other words, a first pitch by a “regular” person is going to be different from a gymnast. And two different gymnasts throwing first pitches are going to be different from each other.
Simone Biles did it at the World Series which is the biggest baseball event of the year.
But the last time Simone did it she had her pen ready to go.
Laurie Hernandez not only threw a first pitch, but gave a sideline interview later in the game.
Like Laurie, Aly Raisman threw a first pitch and gave a sideline interview during the game. Unlike Laurie she allowed David Ortiz to hold onto her Olympic medals while she did it. For those that don’t know, Ortiz is one of the most popular baseball players of the last decade.
Aly also got to do it in a ceremony that was more kid orientated.
Madison Kocian did it at a minor league game.
But at a Major League game she was far more original and like her Olympic teammates, gave a sideline interview during the game.
A few days after Jordyn Wieber took the the head coaching job at Arkansas, she threw the first pitch at a game featuring their college team. It was Jordyn’s first appearance in front of a large gathering of Arkansas fans. This is a textbook example of how institutions often use the ceremonial first pitch to introduce newly acquired public figures to the local community.
If you are familiar with UCLA gymnastics then you are obviously familiar with Felicia Hano. Felicia is a huge Dodgers fan and this moment was a dream come true for her.
Nastia Liukin again.
Another Nastia Liukin.
Let’s just say Nastia Liukin has done it a lot.
Kyla Ross, Gabby Douglas, and McKayla Maroney. Nowhere in the rules does it say only one person may do it at a time.
Shawn Johnson and Alicia Sacramone also did it together.
For an iconic American tradition that is 130 years old in a sport that calls itself “America’s past time, what do you think is the best known first pitch by a gymnast? The answer is someone who is neither an American nor an artistic gymnast.
This first pitch by South Korean Shin Soo-ji (some databases list her as Sin Su-ji) went viral. It currently has just under 13 million views on YouTube. She is a rhythmic gymnast who competed at the 2008 Olympics. Baseball is most commonly associated with the United States, but it has since spread to Latin America and Asia with the sport having a strong presence in Japan and South Korea.
A first pitch may look easy, but it’s not. Television footage doesn’t accurately portray just how significant the distance is between the mound and home plate. Usually those making the throw are doing it for the first time, often with little to no practice beforehand. Further complicating things is that the pitcher’s mound is elevated and non-players don’t realize how much that impacts their throwing motion. All with thousands of fans watching.
It is very common for people throwing a first pitch to be way off target. Catchers receiving the pitch often have to make major adjustments to “save” the throw. Failed throws often land in the dirt, are overthrown, or don’t have enough power behind the throw to make it to the catcher. One thing you will notice in all of these examples is that every throw is accurate. That’s a testament to how much raw physical talent elite gymnasts have.
And then there’s Katelyn Ohashi…
Ironically, Ohashi was attempting the exact same style of throw as fellow Internet viral sensation Shin Soo-ji. Perhaps the lesson here is that one viral sensation shouldn’t try to copy another viral sensation. Or perhaps the lesson here is that while there are many things an artistic gymnast can do that a rhythmic gymnast can’t do, there are also things a rhythmic gymnast can do that an artistic gymnast can’t do.
But to make a quick passionate defense of Ohashi, Katelyn was the only one of these examples who was throwing a first pitch at a softball game. Whereas baseball players throw overhand, softball pitchers throw underhand which is very unnatural for inexperiences throwers. Ohashi decided to pay homage to the sport she was attending as a spectator by attempting the more difficult underhand throw, all while trying to be a rhythmic gymnast in the process. Many of the other gymnasts featured in this article would have botched it if they were in Ohashi’s situation. But Katelyn was a good sport about it and her hilarious reaction stems from the same personality trait that causes so many to love her.
And that brings me to my final point. Gymnasts have the ability to win over crowds in a way other athletes can’t. The acrobatic displays and the personality of the athletes rapidly win over audiences. Leave it to gymnasts to take a tradition that is usually boring, bland, and routine for everyone else, and make it interesting.