How easy it has been to snicker at people who throw out ceremonial first pitches at baseball games.
No longer, however. Not after last week. Not after my very own first ceremonial first pitch.
"I need a big favor," the voice on Voicemail said.
My thought while returning the call: This can't be good.
"I need you to throw out the first pitch at a Schaumburg Boomers game," she said.
This wasn't good.
A pitcher throws a home run ball on his first pitch and he has 100 pitches to make up for it.
The ceremonial first pitch is the loneliest of the day. It makes the ceremonial first-pitch pitcher the loneliest person in the world.
Twice for free columns I wrestled a bear, the first one 450 pounds and the second 600 pounds.
Not much scares me after that.
For another free column I rode from Fox River Grove to Gurnee in a hot-air balloon piloted by a guy named Guy who must have had a death wish.
Not much scares me after that.
Three decades ago I played in a charity basketball game on the same team with Walter Payton and NBA player/Palatine native Kevin McKenna.
Not much scares me after that and apparently not much embarrasses me either.
But the prospect of being embarrassed by this first pitch business scared the adult diaper off me.
"I'm too old to do these things anymore," I told her.
"Please, please, please," she pleaded.
Flashing through my mind were all those lame ceremonial first pitches and the lame actors, musicians and politicians that threw them.
Usually those folks made fools of themselves to promote a product, usually themselves. A receding hairline and bulging belly were all I had to promote Wednesday night.
But I agreed to throw out the ceremonial first pitch because what else can a guy do when a woman is one more "please" from tears?
Every time I have been on the field at Wrigley Field or Comiskey Park, the 60 feet, 6 inches from the mound to home plate looked like 60 feet, 6 inches.
When I checked it out before my first pitch at Boomers Stadium, the distance looked like from, oh, let's say the mound to the sports-hernia ward at Northwest Community Hospital.
(Coincidentally, or maybe not, the outfield walls sported advertisements for a hospital, for physical therapy and for an injury lawyer.)
The most recent item I threw, excluding fits at editors, was a golf ball out of a greenside bunker. Sad to say it didn't roll within 40 feet of the hole.
A pitching side session was in order to work on my release point. Instead, I took a couple naps, interrupted only by a couple hot dogs with everything for lunch.
Finally it was time for my Olympic moment, one shot at the gold and the glory.
With somewhere between 500 and 50,000 fans in the stands, presumably all of them major-league scouts, I let fly from a step in front of the rubber.
No, it wasn't a strike. It wasn't supposed to be. It was my version of a 0-2 waste pitch to a right-handed batter, a nasty slider that bounced once, twice or three times before reaching the catcher's mitt.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
It was time to ice my shoulder and write apology notes to all previous ceremonial first-pitch pitchers everywhere.