PHOENIX ― It’s an honor to throw out the first pitch at a Major League Baseball game.
But anyone who’s ever stood anywhere near 60 feet, six inches away from home plate knows it can be a daunting task throwing a baseball that far with any sense of accuracy, especially if it’s the first time you’ve ever thrown a baseball.
Twice two top Brazilian bull riders – Guilherme Marchi and Silvano Alves – have taken part in a ceremonial first pitch.
They both attended their first Major League Baseball game early in the 2011 season when they attended a Kansas City Royals game and again late in the 2012 season when they did the same for the Tampa Rays.
On both occasions Alves, who was terrified to catch, threw out the pitch and Marchi, who was willing but unsure of himself, was visibly uncomfortable wearing a baseball glove.
In fact, Marchi wasn’t even sure which hand he should wear the glove on. He rides bulls with his right hand and initially wanted to put the glove on his right hand, even though that would have been the same hand he used to throw.
Needless to say, it didn’t matter.
As expected, neither of Alves’ pitches came close to home plate.
And yet, two seasons later, both are still convinced it’s easier throwing or, at least, less dangerous than catching it. Yes, two professional bull riders consider catching a baseball to be dangerous.
“Silvano pitched for me, but I no catch the ball,” said Marchi, who laughed when reminded of baseball because this week’s annual Built Ford Tough Series event is in Arizona and coincides with MLB’s spring sraining. “I think throwing is more easy – I think so – but I don’t know because I’ve never played.”
Alves added, “If you’re throwing the ball you know the direction it’s going to go, but whenever you’re receiving you don’t know where it’s going. You have to be more ready and more focused.”
Those are the only two games Alves has ever seen.
Alves, a two-time World Champion, said he’s “never watched a baseball match” on television. With the help of Luiz Felipe Borges translating Portuguese to English, Alves called the game and the stadiums they’re played in “beautiful and pretty,” but explained it’s not the type of sport – “slow” and “boring” – he enjoys watching.
However, if were to be invited again he said he would go.
Marchi’s first experience was, in 2005, when he watched his neighbor’s children in a little league game shortly after moving to Texas.
“I like to watch the kids play,” said Marchi, who enjoys watching his daughter Manuela play softball.
Despite the popularity of baseball in Latin American countries, it’s almost nonexistent in Brazil.
In fact, Jose Pett was the first Brazilian player ever drafted by a Major League Team. He was a highly-touted prospect when the Toronto Blue Jays selected him in in 1993 and after seven years in the minors, his career ended without ever playing a single game at the big league level.
Unlike Pett, Yan Gomes made his Major League debut with the Blue Jays May of 2012.
Gomes, who has since been traded to the Cleveland Indians, is the only part-time big league catcher represented in the Baseball Hall of Fame. They are displaying his first-game worn jersey in Cooperstown.
Gomes and Pett are two of only four players with Brazilian ties – Andre Rienzo (Chicago White Sox) and Paulo Orlando (Royals) – that Tracy Ringolsby, who is beginning his 39th season of covering Major League Baseball, can recall.
“It’s just not popular with them,” said Ringolsby, who started his sports writing career in the midst of the Latin explosion in the early ’70s and currently writes for www.mlb.com.
Marchi agreed with the lack of popularity.
The BFTS veteran grew up surfing and playing soccer, which he said is the No. 1 sport in Brazil. The 2014 FIFA World Cup takes place this summer in Brazil.
He also noted the popularity of volleyball, basketball and, of course, bull riding and rodeo. In fact, according to recent studies, bull riding and rodeo combined are considered the second most popular sport in Brazil.
Emilio Resende has never attended a baseball game in-person and never watched a complete game on television, but said he thought too many other sports came before baseball and, therefore, the popularity among Brazilians never caught on.
Although he heard of baseball while growing up, Marchi said he doesn’t know the rules either, but does understand the concept “a little bit.”
“I just watched it couple times,” Marchi said, “but I never play.”
He added, “American football is starting to be popular in Brazil. In my town, they have a team that I think is pretty good and they have a field. They started training and getting serious, but it’s not big. It’s just starting.”
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
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