NORMAN – It was a childhood dream come to life last Tuesday for Oklahoma junior pitcher Paige Parker.
Two weeks to the day after the Sooners won their second straight national championship, there was Parker standing in the center of Kauffman Stadium, getting ready to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Kansas City Royals' game against the Boston Red Sox.
The process of turning that dream into a reality began the day after the Sooners won the national championship when Mike Swanson, the Royals Vice President for Communications and Broadcasting, sent an email to the OU Athletics Communications office, inquiring if Parker would like to throw out the first pitch at a game this summer.
The next day, Parker was asked about the request before the Sooners' celebration at Marita Hynes Field.
“I was kind of shocked because I would've never imagined that I'd have the opportunity to get to do that,” she said. “I really feel like I didn't even blink an eye before I said yes just because I was so excited.”
Parker grew up in Independence, Mo., and attended Truman High School. She said she would usually go to one or two Royals games each summer growing up, but would watch many more on television. The stadium is less than 15 minutes from her house.
After determining that June 20 would be the date of her first pitch, Parker thought about it a lot. The biggest thing on her mind was whether she'd be throwing out the first pitch overhand or underhand. Just to be safe, the night before, she went into the backyard with her dad and practiced throwing overhand with a baseball for about 30 minutes.
“I felt okay,” Parker said of her practice session. “If I would've had to throw a baseball overhand I would've felt okay. But I felt a lot more confident throwing it underhand.”
Luckily for Parker, the day of her first pitch the Royals asked her if she wanted to throw underhand instead, to which she said yes. Still, the morning and afternoon leading up to her first pitch was a mixture of emotions.
“I was pretty nervous because I was like ‘what if I don't throw a strike?',” she recalled. “I was really nervous I was going to look stupid. But I think it was a mixture of both, nervous and excited. I didn't really know what to expect, so I was really excited but also really nervous.”
Parker, accompanied by her parents Terry and Kim, met Swanson outside the front games of Kauffman Stadium and he escorted them inside. He first took them into the batting cages, which were empty at first, but then the team's starting third baseman Mike Moustakas and starting catcher Salvador Perez walked in.
“I kind of freaked out a little bit,” Parker admitted. “(Swanson) introduced me to both of them and was talking about how I played for OU and we just won the Women's College World Series and we played the 17-inning game and Mike Moustakas goes ‘oh, I watched parts of it.' That was really cool to hear him say he watched part of the game.”
Parker then went into the dugout with her parents to take some pictures before heading back into the batting cages to warm up with Royals catcher Drew Butera, to whom she'd be throwing the night's first pitch. She started tossing just to warmup at first, but then some of the players wanted to see Parker's actual pitches so she said she started ramping it up and throwing harder.
“Some of their reactions were really cool, so that's something I won't ever forget,” she said. “They were pretty shocked about how much my ball moved. I think they were especially fascinated by my rise ball because they never see that. They had some pretty funny reactions. Drew had a hard time catching some of my rise balls, which was pretty funny.”
While she threw, Parker said that Moustakas sat behind home plate most of the time. It was around this time, too, when Parker's favorite player, first baseman Eric Hosmer came over to watch her throw, as did second baseman Whit Merrifield.
“Yeah, I was freaking out at the point,” Parker said of Hosmer's presence. “I was trying to keep my composure but on the inside I was freaking out.”
"It was surreal. I think it's like a childhood dream come true to get to meet the players."
-- Paige Parker
After finishing her warmup, Parker returned to the dugout where she got to meet Royals manager Ned Yost. The video board played a small video introducing Parker as she took the field. Granted not everyone was in their seats at that point, but the announced crowd for the game was 25,983, easily the largest crowd Parker would've ever thrown in front of. However, she didn't let the extra eyes faze her, using the same tactics as when she takes the mound in her Sooners jersey.
“Honestly, I kind of went into the mode like I do in games where I don't pay attention to the people because otherwise I'd psyche myself out if I thought about that many people being there,” she said. “So I didn't pay attention to it and just focused on throwing a strike.”
The only words of advice she received came courtesy of her catcher Butera, who reassured her that she'd be fine and to just go out and throw. Naturally, Parker fired a strike while throwing a softball underhand.
“I felt very relieved,” Parker said of throwing a strike. “Just relieved I didn't throw it in the dirt or over his head.”
Parker returned to the dugout and got her picture with Hosmer before being shown to her seats by Swanson to watch the game. The Royals lost, 8-3, but she did enjoy the fact that she got to see Moustakas' 100th career home run and Alcides Escobar's 1000th hit as a Royal.
“It was surreal,” she said of the whole experience. “I think it's like a childhood dream come true to get to meet the players. I don't think I could've ever thought of any of that in my wildest dreams to get to interact with them that much.”