Aja Evans

Olympians throwing ceremonial first pitches, a brief history

Leave a comment

Olympic bronze medalist bobsledder Aja Evans sought advice before throwing out the first pitch on Opening Day at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago on Monday.

She knew just the person to ask — her uncle, retired MLB outfielder Gary Matthews — among others. The best advice?

“Aim high,” she said.

Evans got the job done, getting the ball over the plate before the White Sox-Twins game. Other Sochi Olympians were throwing out first pitches this week, including hockey silver medalists Brianna Decker and Jessie Vetter and skeleton bronze medalist Matt Antoine at Miller Park in Milwaukee on Monday.

Olympic ski slopestyle bronze medalist Nick Goepper is slated to throw out the first pitch at the Reds’ first night game Wednesday.

There have been some fabulous and, more memorable, forgettable first pitches by Olympians over time. It is common for Olympic stars to throw first pitches at MLB games shortly after the Summer or Winter Games finish.

The most notable is certainly nine-time Olympic track and field champion Carl Lewis, who has run the gamut in at least three ceremonial first pitches in MLB and NCAA baseball. He bounced the ball to home plate, airmailed another pitch and gave up entirely and sprinted from the pitcher’s mound, as detailed in this video post last year.

One must sympathize the most with artistic gymnasts, who are among the least trained Olympians when it comes to throwing a baseball 60 feet at a strike-zone target.

“Hopefully I’ll make it to the catcher,” 2008 Olympic champion Shawn Johnson once said.

She had trouble doing so at an Iowa Cubs game near her home in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2010, but was respectable when moving in front of the mound for a throw at Dodger Stadium in 2009.

Fierce Five gymnast Jordyn Wieber stepped in front of the mound and made it to home plate on one bounce at a Detroit Tigers game after the 2012 Olympics, doing so with a boot on her right foot due to stress fracture.

Three of Wieber’s teammates, Gabby DouglasMcKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross, threw simultaneous first pitches at Dodger Stadium in 2012. Maroney, the high-flying vault world champion, was the only one to do so from the pitching rubber and clearly had the strongest arm.

The multi-talented eight-time Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno showed a stellar windup and accuracy on this first pitch, also at Dodger Stadium.

Swimmer Jason Lezak looked calm and collected throwing a smooth, but not particularly fast, accurate strike in LA. Another swimmer, Jessica Hardy, risked throwing her pitch while wearing her two 2012 Olympic medals.

Ice dancing silver medalist Ben Agosto received a perfect score from the judges, according to the stadium announcer, for his first pitch at Safeco Field in 2012.

Even Yuna Kim has thrown out a first pitch, at a South Korean baseball game while wearing a “2018” jersey for the Pyeongchang Olympics.

Three-time Olympic basketball champion Diana Taurasi was just a bit outside on a throw at Chase Field.

“A little wild thing,” Taurasi said. “I wanted to throw it with a little heat.”

Then there are the quirky first pitches we saw out of South Korea last year — rhythmic gymnast Shin Soo-ji‘s whirligig pitch that has received more than 11 million YouTube views and 2012 gold medalist archer Ki Bo-bae, who made a mascot whiff with a bow-and-arrow pitch.

The 25 best MLB players to compete in the Olympics

Long jumper Marquis Dendy to miss Rio Olympics

BEIJING, CHINA - AUGUST 24:  Marquis Dendy of the United States competes in the Men's Long Jump qualification during day three of the 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015 at Beijing National Stadium on August 24, 2015 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Long jumper Marquis Dendy withdrew from the U.S. Olympic team due to a right leg injury and will be replaced by the next-highest qualified finisher from the Olympic Trials, Mike Hartfield.

Dendy, 23, was fourth at the Olympic Trials but made the three-man team because third-place finisher Will Claye did not have the Olympic standard mark during the qualifying window from May 1, 2015, through the Olympic Trials and thus cannot compete in the event Rio (he did make it in the triple jump).

Dendy, who came into the Olympic Trials with a leg injury, suffered another leg injury on his fourth of six possible finals jumps at Trials on July 3 and passed on the remaining two jumps.

Dendy finished 21st at the 2015 World Championships in his first global championship and is ranked fourth in the world this year.

Hartfield, 26, finished fifth at the Olympic Trials and is going to his first Olympics. He was 12th at the 2015 World Championships.

MORE: Complete U.S. Olympic team roster

What’s troubling athletes arriving in Rio? No ‘Pokemon Go’

Pokemon Go
Getty Images
Leave a comment

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — So the plumbing and electricity in the athletes’ village took several days to fix. Who cares?

But no “Pokemon Go”? That’s an outrage!

If there were ever a more “First World problem” for the Zika-plagued, water-polluted Rio Olympics, it’s Brazil’s lack of access to the hit mobile game, which has united players the world over.

Since debuting to wild adulation in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand this month, the game from Google spinoff Niantic Inc. has spread like wildfire, launching in more than 30 countries or territories — but not Brazil.

For athletes and other visitors caught up in the wave, not having access is just one more knock against an Olympics that officials are racing to get ready. The opening ceremony takes place next Friday.

“I wish I could run around in the (athletes’) village catching Pokemon,” New Zealand soccer player Anna Green said Friday. “I just can’t get it on the phone. It’s fine, but it would have been something fun to do.”

What will she do instead? “Train,” she replied.

Niantic didn’t reply to a request for comment on when the game might be released in Brazil. And though social media rumors point to a Sunday release for the game, similar rumors in Japan resulted in heightened expectations and the sense of delay before its debut there last week.

This week, British canoer Joe Clarke tweeted — with a broken-hearted sad face — a screenshot of his player on a deserted map near the rugby, equestrian and modern pentathlon venues in Rio’s Deodoro neighborhood. The map was devoid of PokeStops — fictional supply caches linked to real-world landmarks. No Pokemon monsters to catch either: There was nary a Starmie nor a Clefairy to be found.

“Sorry guys no #pokemon in the Olympic Village,” tweeted French canoer Matthieu Peche, followed by three crying-face emoji. Getting equal billing in his Twitter stream was a snapshot of a letter of encouragement from French President Francois Hollande.

Players with the app already downloaded elsewhere appear to be able to see a digital map of their surroundings when they visit Rio. But without PokeStops or Pokemon, the game isn’t much fun. It would be like getting on a football field — soccer to Americans — but not having a ball to kick or goals to defend.

Many competitors in the athletes’ village took it in stride, though. Canadian field hockey player Matthew Sarmento said it would give him more time to meet other athletes. But he would have welcomed Pokemon during downtime in competition, adding that “sometimes it’s good to take your mind off the important things and let yourself chill.”

Athletes might not get Pokemon, but they’ll have access to 450,000 condoms, or three times as many as the London Olympics. Of those, 100,000 are female condoms. Officials deny that it’s a response to the Zika virus, which has been linked to miscarriages and birth defects in babies born to women who have been infected.

In Pokemon countries like the U.S., PokeStops are being used to attract living, breathing customers. In San Francisco, for example, dozens of bars, restaurants and coffee shops have set up lures that attract rare Pokemon, along with potential new patrons looking to catch them.

That’s presumably one reason why Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes — plagued by a host of bad news from player robberies to faulty plumbing — urged Niantic investor Nintendo to release the game in Brazil.

“Everybody is coming here. You should also come!” Paes wrote in Portuguese on his Facebook page , adding the hashtag #PokemonGoNoBrasil — “Pokemon Go” in Brazil.

His post generated responses such as this: “The aquatic Pokemon died with superbugs.”

Paes didn’t respond to requests for interviews.

One video circulating virally, with more than 3.5 million views, shows one fan identifying himself as Joel Vieira questioning how Brazil can host the Olympics but not Pokemon.

“I can’t play! I am not allowed to know how it really feels to see the little animals on my cell phone,” he said on the video . “Because we don’t have it in Brazil, yet. But we are having the Olympics.”

The Olympics kick off next Friday. Will Pikachu be there to witness it? The world is watching with baited Poke-breath.

MORE: Not everyone unhappy with Olympic Village