One Jewish Federation of Greater Washington volunteer recalls his experience at last year’s Grand Slam Sunday: Jewish Community Day at Nationals Park.
Throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game, any baseball game, had always been a goal of mine. I never really considered it in practical terms, however. After all, first pitches are reserved for celebrities, dignitaries, members of the military, or kids who win contests.
But last year, because of my volunteer involvement with the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, I was offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to enter a raffle where the winner would throw the first pitch on Federation’s Grand Slam Sunday: Jewish Community Day at Nationals Park.
Lo and behold, I won the raffle.
Then the work began.
I bought some baseballs to practice with because I was going to throw that pitch from a distant 90 feet, 9 inches, not one step closer to the plate. In addition to honing my delivery, which was patterned after Hideo Nomo, I also made sure to order a Nationals kippah. It was important to me to proudly display my religion when stepping on the mound.
On the day of my first practice pitch, I went to Einstein High School in Kensington, Maryland, and practiced from the mound until my arm tired. After years, really decades, of not playing baseball, I got my pitch close enough to the plate so that the Nationals player assigned to catch the ball wouldn’t have to move in.
Once at the stadium, my wife and I, along with others from Federation, including former president and CEO Steve Rakkit, met with a Nationals staffer and were lead down onto the field. My wife Sara, who was five months pregnant with our wonderful daughter Ellie, was able to share in this experience, and so was Ellie to the extent she could. As a lifelong autograph collector, I bought two infant girls Nationals outfits and some Nationals baseballs to get signed. My visions of getting Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper to sign everything ended up not coming true.
Reliever Blake Treinin, who was traded on July 16, was the lucky player who would catch my pitch. He came out before I got to the mound to introduce himself to me and my wife and to try and calm my nerves. His advice was to not be nervous and just have fun. No such luck on the nervousness front, but I did have the time of my life and Treinin couldn’t have been nicer.
When the time came to run to the mound, my nervousness increased because I instantly realized the mound I had been practicing on was way closer than a major league mound. As soon as I came to this realization my goal switched from throwing a good pitch to simply getting it to home plate. Not such an easy task without being able to practice.
Once I was given the sign, I quickly threw my pitch. Treinin signed the baseball for me, and then it was over. As my wife and I were leaving the field, Rabbi Levi Shemtov of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) in Washington, D.C., noticed my Nationals kippah. He said that he will tell our child that when Abba had this important moment when he got to throw out the first pitch on Grand Slam Sunday, he wore a kippah. I was proud to do so and am glad that the photos we have of the day show myself wearing that kippah.
I am also extremely proud of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and all of the impact it has in ensuring that needs are met to create a stronger, more vibrant Jewish community and its connection with Jews in Israel and around the world. It was an honor to represent the Federation, and Judaism, on the mound that day.
By Ben Shlesinger
Come out to the ballgame on Sunday, August 27, 2017 for Federation’s 3rd Annual Grand Slam Sunday: Jewish Community Day at Nationals Park. Join more than 1,500 community members and watch the Nationals take on the Mets! Pre-game fun begins at 11:30 a.m., first pitch, 1:35 p.m. For more info or tickets, visit www.shalomdc.org/grandslam or call 301-230-7292.