Robin Ventura had a single and two strikeouts in the game but that’s not what anybody remembers.
It was September 21, 2001. Ten days after the most impactful terrorist attack in U.S. history Ventura took the field in Shea Stadium in New York City’s first public event since the attack.
Ventura, now a student assistant baseball coach at Oklahoma State, played a role in the New York Mets 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves. But to describe what transpired that night simply as a baseball game doesn’t do it justice. It was the first healing moment for a forever-scarred nation looking to get back on its feet.
Another healing moment for the country came just over a month later when newly elected President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium before game three of the World Series. Bush took the mound with a bulletproof vest under his jacket and the weight of a country on his shoulders but still delivered a strike consistent with the most legendary of pitches in baseball history.
“I think just the fact that he went and stood on the mound kind of gave everybody a sense of not being afraid and getting back to doing things that you normally do,” Ventura said. “I think that was probably the biggest message. It was obviously nice that he threw a strike, but I think him just being out there and doing it was probably the biggest thing.”
Thursday night Bush will take the mound in Stillwater and throw out the first pitch before OSU’s game against New Orleans. Bush is friends with Cecil O’Brate, the stadium’s namesake. It will be the headlining event of O’Brate Stadium’s dedication that will also feature a pregame flyover and postgame fireworks.
“It sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun,” OSU coach Josh Holliday said. “It’s definitely exciting and it brings fans out and attention and all that is motivating. I don’t know how many presidents have gone to a college baseball game before and this is pretty darn cool.”
Justin Cambell agrees.
“It’s going to be a great day to be on the field,” Campbell said. “Being able to witness a former President of the United States throw out the first pitch also have a flyover and a postgame firework show after it's pretty much like a Major League Baseball game.”
The experience for both clubs won’t stop at a ceremonial first pitch. Bush is going to take some time to speak with OSU and New Orleans before the game.
“It sounds as if this is a really inclusive trip for him and that he is really sharing himself and his love for baseball with all of us and that is really cool,” Holliday said.
The biggest honor, getting to catch Bush’s pitch, has not been claimed yet.
“I don’t know who’s catching it,” Holliday said. “I would imagine whoever Mr. O’Brate or President Bush would like to catch it will get that lucky nod. I don’t know yet, but I promise there won’t be any shortage of people willing to do it.”
Across 21 years in MLB, 16 as a player and five as a manager, Ventura has seen incredible first pitches in person before. Seeing President Barack Obama toss one out at a Chicago White Sox game was the one that came to his mind. Still, a president coming to a college town like Stillwater makes it special.
“(The fact that he’s coming to Stillwater) makes it pretty unique… it’s just pretty cool that he would be willing to do that. I know he enjoys baseball and used to own the (Texas) Rangers so that’s just something that’s kind of in his blood,” Ventura said.