Seventeen Slings a Strike

At 6:58 this evening, Caps captain Chris Clark whipped a strike across the plate at RFK Stadium, as he threw out the first pitch prior to the Nats’ game with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Nationals pitcher Jason Bergmann was on the receiving end of the pitch. The Nats hurler, a native of New Jersey, went to Rutgers and knows his hockey, judging from the brief pre-pitch conversation he had with Clark.

The 31-year-old Caps winger, who set a career high with 30 goals this season, is a huge baseball fan. Growing up in Connecticut, he became a passionate Red Sox fan and remains one to this day.

Late this afternoon Caps manager of media relations Paul Rovnak, Caps director of new media Sean Parker and myself wormed our way through the rush-hour traffic and drove across town to the venerable Washington ballyard where we met Clark. The Nats hooked him up with a home white jersey complete with his name and the number “17” on the back.

Clark arrived at RFK with his wife Kim, her sister and her sister’s husband. They watched from prime seats behind the Washington dugout while Clark conducted a brief interview with Comcast at 5:45, and then the four of us stood there on the field watching the Arizona Diamondbacks take batting practice and chatting about the upcoming IIHF World Championships in Moscow, the Red Sox, and various other topics. At one point, we were told by a Nats official that Washington manager Manny Acta had hours earlier expressed his interest in taking in a Caps game, only to be told that the last one for the season was tomorrow.

Rovnak brilliantly suggested that Acta could get to the Caps game if he could arrange to be ejected and subsequently suspended from tonight’s game. I’m guessing he’s not going to take Paul up on that ploy.

We traded dental horror stories, although nobody could top Clark’s two new teeth. He showed us the new choppers, and removed them so we could see the apparatus. We watched as former Red Sox first baseman Tony Clark displayed his smooth left-handed stroke in batting practice. We also took note of the new D-Backs logo and colors. Just 10 years into the league and Arizona has changed its colors and logo already.

Shortly after six, Clark was given an official National League baseball. But we still needed a couple of gloves if the captain was going to be able to warm up for his big moment. Several minutes later, a pair was produced. Clark took one and handed the other to me. It was a little small, and it was a Ken Griffey, Jr. model. I asked Clark about his.

“It’s Derek Jeter,” he said.

I offered to trade with him, thinking he might not want to deface his hand with Yankee full grain cowhide.

“Eh. He’s okay [as far as Yankees go].”

He kept it. We paced off what looked to be (to these aging eyes, anyway) about 60 feet of distance along the left field foul line. We started tossing the ball back and forth in the twilight, the temperature now below 50 degrees. Clark had my glove popping pretty good within a few tosses. He also had some decent movement on some of his pitches, although they broke a little early. One of them bent in a couple different directions.

Me, I wasn’t at all comfortable. Wearing a blazer and loafers, it was hard to really cut loose. I did throw a few knuckleballs, my old specialty pitch. They floated right in like they’re supposed to, and Clark instantly recognized them for what they were. We threw for about 20 minutes, until it was time to line up behind the plate for the national anthem.

As soon as the anthem was over, Clark toed the rubber and fired a low strike. His idol, Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, would have been proud. The ball and the jersey are his to keep, and he settled in afterwards to watch a few innings with his family.

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One Comment on “Seventeen Slings a Strike”

  1. Gustafsson Says:

    I was in attendance with Mrs. Gustafsson and our 3 1/2 year old son… and somehow I missed the opening pitch. Had I known Captain Clark was the hurler on the mound, I would have paid more attention. I’ll blame the “squirminess” of our 3 1/2 year old.

    I’ve been warmer watching practice at Kettler than I was in RFK tonight.

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