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What It’s Like to Throw the First Pitch at an MLB Game

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As I mentioned yesterday, I attended yesterday afternoon’s Mets/Phils game so I could see the first pitch being thrown out by my friend Ira Kaplan, who’s the guitarist in the long-running indie-rock band Yo La Tengo. Mary joined me at the game (we’re still friends), and we convinced an usher to let us go down to the first row to watch Ira’s big moment. As you can see in the video I shot, he totally aced it. The best part of that video comes at the very end, so definitely watch and listen to the entire thing!

Here’s another video with somewhat better production values:

Although I’ve handled first pitch duties for two minor league games and a college game, I’ve never done it at a big league game, and it was interesting to talk with Ira about some of the behind-the-scenes details. Let’s shift into FAQ mode:

How did Ira get chosen to throw out the first pitch?

He and his record label proposed it to the Mets several months ago. They explained that Ira’s a lifelong Mets fan and that his band is named after a Mets anecdote. The team liked the idea, so the two sides settled on a mutually agreeable date, and that was that. Surprisingly simple!

Did Ira practice?

Yes. He had several throwing sessions (including one with me) over the past few weeks.

Was he allowed to warm up right before his pitch?

Yes. More on that in a minute.

Was he nervous?

He told me he was, yes.

Based on the video, it looks like he threw from the pitching rubber, yes?

He threw from the mound, but he was specifically told not to touch or push off from the rubber.

Did the Mets give him the jersey and cap that he was wearing?

Yes. It was a replica-style jersey, not an authentic, with “KAPLAN 50” on the back. Since it was a replica, there was no front number.

Why did he choose No. 50?

Someone on Twitter suggested that maybe he did it as a shout-out to 50 Cent’s notoriously bad first pitch in 2014, which would be hilarious if it were true — sort of a reverse-the-jinx thing. But he actually chose No. 50 as a shout-out to former Mets pitcher Sid Fernandez.

Did he wear anything else of note?

Yes — an orange undershirt and orange Chucks, because orange is a Mets team color:

How did rookie third baseman Mark Vientos end up being his catcher? Did Ira specifically ask for him?

No. The catcher situation was the weirdest thing about this whole experience. A few weeks ago, the Mets asked Ira to let them know who he’d be bringing along as his catcher. He was surprised, because he thought a Mets player would catch him. That what I would have assumed, too — I mean, the whole point of a first pitch is that you get to throw it to a big leaguer, right? (All of my first pitches have been to a player on the host team.)

But apparently the Mets have a new policy this year of having the pitchers bring their own catchers. I suppose it’s nice if a father is throwing to his son or something like that (that’s what CNBC broadcaster David Faber did last month), but it still seems odd to me.

Anyway: Ira, through his record label, let the Mets know that he would prefer to have a player as his catcher, but in the meantime he figured he better enlist a friend for catching duties, just in case. At one point it actually seemed possible that might end up as his catcher (when my friend Michael and I had a throwing session with Ira last week, he said, “Just so you know, guys, this could be an audition”), but he eventually decided that Yo La Tengo bassist James McNew would have the honor.

The Mets ultimately told Ira that they’d make Mark Vientos available as his catcher. That meant McNew was out of a job, but he still went along with Ira to the game and warmed him up on the sideline. I didn’t get to see them doing that, unfortunately.

Did Ira get to meet any other players besides Vientos?

No. But he did get to meet a few other folks, as you can see in this photo that was making the rounds yesterday afternoon:

L-R: Yo La Tengo drummer Georgia Hubley, Mets TV broadcaster Gary Cohen (in a Seton Hall shirt!); Ira Kaplan; Yo La Tengo bassist James McNew; and Mets TV broadcaster Keith Hernandez. (Photo by Suzanne Despres)

Did he get to keep the ball that he threw?


Was he the only first pitcher at yesterday’s game?

No. They actually had four different ceremonial “first” pitchers. The other three were a celebrity chef, a Holocaust survivor, and someone whose particulars I’ve already forgotten, sorry. Of those other three, two of them brought their own catchers, and I think the other one used Vientos.

Did Ira have to sign a release or anything like that?


What did he do after throwing his pitch?

The Mets gave him tickets for himself and his family, so they enjoyed the ballgame from very nice seats.

Did anything happen after the game?

A bunch of Ira/YLT-associated folks who’d been scattered throughout the stadium during the game ended up congregating outside the ballpark afterward with Ira. We all treated him like a conquering hero, and he seemed very, very happy about the entire experience.

On top of all that, the Mets won. All in all, a really good day.



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You can read the first part of the article here. In order to read the entire thing, you’ll need to become a paying subscriber to my Substack (which will also give you full access to my Substack/Bulletin archives). My thanks, as always, for your consideration.



Can of the Day

Hey look, the daily non-sports feature is actually sports-related today! Very nice design. If you want it, it’s pretty reasonably priced.

Comments (30)

    Very much enjoyed reading about Ira’s first pitch.

    Also cool to learn about the origins of the band name.

    What the hell is a yellow tango? LOL

    Cool experience and great write-up… at least up to the part where the Phillies lost… again…

    “Mets are now UNBEATEN in games in which Ira Kaplan throws out the first pitch.”

    – Others might say that the Phillies are winless when Ira Kaplan throws out the first pitch.

    I’d like to place some blame on the wearing of the red softball tops ; )
    The road grays are still their best look.

    This is so nice on so many levels: Ira as a longtime fan, the name of the band (what a good story), his bandmates and family and friends being there, the orange Chuck Taylors and a Mets win. Glorious!

    I worked for the Brewers while in college, assisting with the first pitch most games. Re the catcher situation- depending on the day it was anywhere from mildly to incredibly difficult to get a guy to go catch 2-3 pitches so perhaps that’s why the Mets ask you to bring your own catcher if feasible. Former manager, Ned Yost, actually had to enact a rule (one used in the 80’s when he played) that the backup catcher always handles those duties. Even then the backup would often hide from us and we’d have to chase him down with literal seconds to spare.

    Why do players dislike doing this so much? Is it just tedious, or does it interfere with their pregame routine, or what? Seems like it would just take a minute and be no big deal, no?

    Ah, the Gary Bennett era. That’s when he got most of his playing time :)

    Honestly the best I could tell is they didn’t like being told what to do by someone that wasn’t a manager or coach. I would 100% understand a starter not wanting to get out of the routine but a backup catcher was generally milling around the clubhouse during that time. I really enjoyed being around the team for a summer but they largely were about as mature as my HS squad with a few notable exceptions.

    Thanks for sharing!

    But as a follow up to yesterday’s story, I can’t help thinking your missed a trick by not incorporating another Yo La tengo song title into the headline…

    Can’t use “Nowhere Near” after that pitch! “Today Is the Day” could work as a follow up to yesterday. “Meet the Mets” from “Yo La Tengo is murdering the classics” feels a bit of a kop out… so maybe just “Dreaming – What It’s Like to Throw the First Pitch at an MLB Game”!

    A great reminder of Whitman’s once high-quality products!
    And it’s too bad they no longer have a brick-and mortar/manufacturing presence in Philly – condos and a shopping center now occupy their former Olde City and Far NE sites.
    At least Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews are still made there…though like modern-day TastyKakes, they’re not as good either.

    As a Mets fan for almost as long as Paul, there is so much “feel good” about this story after two months of hell to begin the season: Ira’s skyline logo cap and orange Chucks, the very on-point intro, the weather and above all that sweet pitch. Can’t think of any other band I’d prefer to have associated with the Amazins than YLT. I mean, how do go four decades without a single negative review? Thanks to Paul for letting us in on the details of the still kind of strange to me ritual of delivering the ceremonial first pitch on the field. Growing up, I remember the ball always being tossed by some dignitary from their seat, and usually always for special event days or postseason games. A lot easier than than throwing from on or near the mound!

    After Ira’s follow-through, did I see him tug on his cap, like Dick Tidrow?

    For sure throwing out a first pitch is on my bucket list. I think Chevrolet is currently running a sweepstakes with a grand prize to throw out the first pitch at a World Series game. Before gave 5 of the 2021 Braves / Astros World Series there were one or two “regular people” who threw a first pitch, 20-30 minutes before the game. Then right before game time Greg Maddux threw out the “real” first pitch.

    From what I’ve observed a Braves ball boy has been catching the first pitch in the past few years, though if a popular former player throws out the first pitch, a current player will leap at the chance to be the catcher. Once former Brave John Smoltz had been critical of the team on a national broadcast, so when Smoltz threw out the first pitch no player would catch him. A ball boy was given the duty.

    Perhaps nobody wants to catch the ceremonial first pitch …..unless it’s a celebrity. And from previous first pitches…50 Cent’s and other ones that came right out of Bull Durham….it’s dangerous.

    Great write up…congrats Ira! I don’t agree with your cap choice though…just kidding.

    If I were to ever have the opportunity, as someone who still plays softball regularly and somehow was gifted with a rubber arm at my age, I would try to mirror Tom Seaver’s wind up as a tribute to him

    Paul, I’m curious if Ira felt like it was worth it. I know it’s something fun to do (and a personal highlight) but sometimes it feels perfunctory on the teams’ parts, especially when there are four of them in one day.

    Not at all diminishing it–lord knows I’ll never do it. I’m just curious since you obviously have some insight. I love Yo La Tengo, and I’d like to see more of my sports-loving favorite bands get honored the same way.

    Not as big as Sid Fernandez, but a nice bite on the Slurve.

    Considering how many Mets fans there are in the NY area alone (not to mention around the country), it’s really a very small percentage who are given the honor of throwing a first pitch at Citi, even with multiple “pitchers” chosen for each game. As a fan I think it would be thrilling just to be on the field, let alone being spotlighted, getting a picture with hopefully a player, and keeping the ball. There really can’t be anything to top that, aside from maybe catching a home run ball. Being only a few years younger than Ira, I think I have an idea of how much this meant to him, his bandmates, friends and family. And a big shout out to the great Matador Records for helping to make it happen.

    In Mexico (at least in Baja) we call out “Mia!” (mine) on fly balls, it’s easier.

    Great write-up–and a really terrific first pitch! You can tell Ira took it seriously.

    Last season I went to a Columbus Clippers game and a band from New Zealand who was playing a concert at the venue next door that night threw out the first pitch (IIRC it was three members of the band throwing to three catchers simultaneously). It was all three musicians’ first time ever attending a baseball game. I thought that was so cute.

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