Hines Ward and Pirates Andrew McCutchen
Hines Ward stood on the mound at PNC Park, with fans on their feet cheering, wound up, and with his familiar smile threw a perfect strike to pitcher Jeff Karstens.
“I have seen some of the guys do this before and the key was to get it over the plate, not in the dirt or over the catcher’s head” said Ward, who threw out the first pitch prior to the Pirates-National game on Thursday night. “It was just about having fun and letting it rip. I played in pressure games before, so to come out here and throw that pitch, it wasn’t that bad.
“To have the fans show their appreciation like that had special meaning. It was a great farewell from the fans here.”
Ward, wearing a Pirates jersey with his name and number on it, was happy to be back in Pittsburgh, back in front of the hometown fans.
“It’s always fun to be involved with things like this,” said Ward. “I have always been a supporter of all of the teams in Pittsburgh, the Pirates, Penguins, Power and Passion, everybody. Anytime I get an opportunity to do something like this I love to seize the moment.”
Ward, who played baseball at Forest Park High School in Georgia and was drafted by the Florida Marlins as a centerfielder his senior year but choose to attend Georgia instead, took some swings during batting practice.
“Upon his retirement, our owner, Bob Nutting, reached out to Hines and invited him to throw out the first pitch and be his guest at a game this season,” said Brian Warecki, the Pirates senior director of communication. “With Hines being a former baseball player, Bob also invited him to take batting practice with some of our coaches and players prior to the game. It is simply a way that the organization can honor the career of a one of our city’s great sports figures.”
Ward got some tips from Pirates players before taking swings and had fun joking around with them while in the batter’s box.
“He looked like he was having a good time, it was fun watching him, and joking around with him,” said catcher Michael McKenry. “He wanted to see what we do in our craft on a day-to-day basis and it was really cool that he came out.”
Ward, who grew up a baseball fan and said the sport was his “first love,” didn’t hit any home runs during batting practice, but came close.
“Baseball has always been a passion of mine,” said Ward. “And to get the opportunity to go out in PNC Park and take batting practice was exciting. I have a newfound respect for that. That is definitely work. To be out here on the field with these guys and meet them, it feels good to be out here on the same field with these guys.”
This was the first time Ward had the pleasure of throwing out a first pitch at a Major League Baseball game, previously doing it on a trip to Korea, and was thrilled with the opportunity.
“For the owner to invite me out for something like this, that is an honor,” said Ward. “That is the way Pittsburgh is. I felt honored they would do it. I am happy I got to come back and do this.”
Since he retired in March life has been a bit different for Ward. In the past he would be preparing to take part in the team’s offseason program. But now his focus is elsewhere.
“For half of my life I have always had structure, I had to be here at a certain time, I knew when OTAs, or mini-camp were coming,” said Ward. “Right now it’s going here, going there and working out at the same time. I am training differently. I am still staying in shape, eating right, things like that.
“People say I could still play football, but that is the furthest thing from my mind. I am retired. Now I am starting to reflect back on the14 years I had. It’s not bad. I did a lot of things on and off the field and it’s something I can hold my head up high and be proud about. Everything I earned, I worked hard for and I am proud of that.”
Ward is also taking time to just stop and smell the roses, literally. One of the projects he has been focusing on is having the landscaping re-done at his home in Georgia and he is enjoying the new look.
“Now that I am here all of the time I wanted a different look,” said Ward. “It’s the little things you don’t always pay attention to because all I could think about was football. I would worry about things like this later. But now I have time on my hands, and I am staying busy and thinking about what the next chapter of my life is going to be. There are so many options and avenues out here for me to explore.”
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