The Brewers open a six-game homestand at Miller Park against Oakland on Tuesday night, and a local former athlete with a failed baseball background will throw out the first pitch.
Greg Gard will take the mound for the ceremonial toss, a tribute to his accomplishment in becoming the Badgers basketball head coach last season and perhaps also a chance to show he’s got the stuff that made him – briefly – a college ballplayer a quarter-century ago.
Gard, who took over after Bo Ryan abruptly retired last December, was cut from the UW-Platteville baseball team his sophomore year. That failure, Gard has said, led him to coaching basketball and, more than 25 years later, he’s now one of the most prominent sports figures in the state.
That got us to thinking about what other Wisconsin-connected athletes and coaches we want to see on the hill at Miller Park. The Brewers have given former players, local celebrities and other deserving individuals the honor; and in 2001, they even let President George W. Bush do it.
Some ceremonial pitches are awesome because they're comically terrible, and the lists commemorating those failures certainly have their place; but Gard's heave likely will be decent, and competence can be fine, too.
Milwaukee is playing well and outperforming expectations this season, but it can’t hurt to give fans extra reasons to come out to the ballpark. Here are 13 other physically inclined and mostly able people we'd like to nominate for throwing out the first pitch at a Brewers game:
1. Russell Wilson
The Super Bowl-winning Seahawks quarterback was a college baseball player who was selected by the Rockies in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB Draft and played a couple of years in the minors, before giving up the game to return to the gridiron. Though he’s irked some Packers fans since gaining NFL stardom, his spectacular 2011 season with the Badgers will always preserve his place in Wisconsin sports esteem. In 2013, he threw out the first pitch at a Mariners game and it was clocked at 98 miles per hour on the home team scoreboard – though it was actually 75 – so he already knows the drill.
2. Matt Ferris
Following in his coach’s footsteps, Ferris would make an excellent first pitcher. A prep standout in basketball, football and baseball at Appleton Xavier, the walk-on Wisconsin point guard not only can throw, but also is hilarious, as evidenced by his NCAA tourney-chronicling video exploits last season. A record-setting quarterback who started for four years on the diamond and was second-team all-conference in baseball, Ferris should be able to get it across the plate. And if for some reason he doesn’t, it’ll surely still be entertaining.
3. Cassandra Darrah
Another Badger, Darrah ended her college softball career in 2014 as the program’s all-time leader in winning percentage and was in the top three for almost every school pitching record. An all-conference and all-region selection, she is now the owner of Full Circle Fastpitch, where she trains young softball players. Watching her fire it in there, either underhand or overhand, would be something cool and different for girls at Miller Park.
4. Brett Favre
The Packers legend has thrown out the first pitch before a couple Southern Mississippi games, including a wild high fastball last month, and perhaps now he’s shaken off the nerves and rust. In September, Favre will already be at Miller Park for an honorary dinner event with fans, so why not have him hurl a heater while he’s here? Aaron Rodgers did it in 2011, and since the two hyper-competitive Green Bay quarterbacks are compared and contrasted ad nauseum anyway, why not see which is better at throwing a hardball?
5. Tim Masthay
Let’s face reality; it’s unlikely Favre, who's sensitive to embarrassment in Wisconsin, is going to do this. But the Packers punter might! (Especially if local guy Peter Mortell, brought in to provide Masthay some competition, punts well enough to give the veteran a lot more free time…) Masthay was a four-sport prep star and has been inducted into his high school’s baseball hall of fame, thanks to a standout career as a pitcher and outfielder. The "Ginger Wolverine" would look like a fitter, more athletic Seth McClung on the mound.
6. Damarious Randall
The second-year Packers cornerback played a season of baseball at Butler Community College before transferring to Arizona State. Since he was a shortstop, we can assume he has a good arm, and he reportedly threw out the first pitch before a Pensacola Blue Wahoos minor-league game a couple months ago. If Randall’s unavailable, another Packers defensive back with a baseball background, Micah Hyde, who does charity work in Milwaukee, would be a nice replacement.
7. John Henson
Bucks point guard Michael Carter-Williams unleashed a pretty awful ceremonial pitch before a Brewers game at Miller Park last year, hitting a cameraman standing nearby and resulting in Henson blasting him – hysterically – on Twitter. Well, John, it’s time to find out if you should be throwing stones in a glass house (or insert whatever baseball or potato-related metaphor).
Who would rather have pitch for your team ...?? RT for Sack of Potatoes ..Fav for @MCW1 ... pic.twitter.com/KEGK7s6oeE — John Henson (@Johnhenson31) September 19, 2015
8. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Judging by MCW’s attempt, Giannis’ gangliness and his being foreign to America’s pastime, it’s possible Antetokounmpo would be bad at this. On the other hand, since he’s pretty much good at everything else, there’s a chance he’d just wind up, uncoil that 6-foot-11 frame and deal a diving nickel curve that catches the outside corner perfectly. Either way, it’d be worth it to see the Greek Freak in a baseball cap for the first since he was drafted. Teammate Jabari Parker did it a couple years ago and, despite wonky mechanics, was at least on line.
9. Travis Diener
The former Marquette star and now Golden Eagles director of player personnel had a serviceable little NBA career for five years. But before he made a life out of basketball, Diener was an all-conference pitcher in high school, leading the Fox Valley Association in wins, innings, complete games and strikeouts. He even threw a perfect game during his senior season. He lives in the area, is a local hero and seems like a no-brainer for the Brewers to have on the bump. Diener's cousin, Drew, the Cardinal Stritch men's basketball head coach, got the opportunity from Milwaukee after winning the NAIA Division II championship in 2013.
10. Bob Uecker
Two years ago, Ueck lobbed a beaut right over the plate, and he’s had the honor a few other times during his five decades as the Brewers radio voice. But we can’t get enough of him throwing out the first pitch – nor all the other old people who’ve done it at Miller Park. So if Uecker’s arm is up for it, let him do it again. Juuuuust a bit outside!
11. Juan Nieves
Still the only Brewers pitcher to throw a no-hitter, which he did in 1987, Nieves holds a special place in franchise history. Why not invite him back to the city where he entered the Major League Baseball record books? Nieves was fired as the Red Sox pitching coach last year, but hired for the same position by the Marlins before this season. The Juan and only.
12. Jeff Suppan
No. Just kidding. Never.
13. Wily Peralta
Hey, the guy’s got a 6.79 ERA; it could work.
Who would you like to see throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Brewers game? Do you prefer the impressively good ones or the hilariously bad ones? Would you ever do it? Let us know in the comments!
Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.
After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like CBSSports.com, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.
Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.