Grip the ball gently as if it were an egg. Keep the lead shoulder high. Follow through with the pitching hand like you’re scooping water back toward you. All that was out the window the evening of Aug. 5 as I stood on the mound thinking two thoughts:
- Despite my male pattern baldness, they’re letting me throw out the first pitch at a professional baseball game. This is a watershed moment for society. Emphasis on shed.
- Why did the Chiefs have to schedule a $10,000 ALS check presentation on the same night I was scheduled to raise money for my $8,500 hair transplant?
The pairing rattled me, which might explain why my pitch sailed high, forcing high school ump Bill Cregg out of his crouch to grab it.
I had learned only hours earlier that I would be sharing first-pitch honors with Jake Welsh, an outfielder for the Marcellus High School Mustangs. Jake had been instrumental in raising money for ALS in conjunction with the Strike Out Lou Gehrig’s Disease Baseball Classic. The annual tournament at NBT Bank Stadium benefits the ALS Clinic at Upstate Medical University.
Even my low-budget PC detector emitted a chirp. There’d I’d be — as efforts to combat a heinous disease were being spotlighted — siphoning attention for my cause: male pattern baldness? All it would take would be one person from the ALS community tweeting about the inappropriateness of the juxtaposition, and in a digital instant I’d be a global pariah: a bald ISIS.
Fear sweat poured off my denuded scalp as friend after friend urged me to back out. The mock-serious introduction I’d written for Jason Smorol, the Chiefs’ general manager, to read before my first pitch, worried me most:
Jeff tragically first exhibited symptoms of male pattern baldness in the late 1980s. He joins us tonight to celebrate men who are bald, but also to raise awareness and fight for resources for baldness-reversal options for guys who prefer a less … blinding look.
If you would like to assist Jeff in his effort to unbald his personal head, visit him in the main concourse during tonight’s game. Your pledge of $8.50 will allow you to own and name one of Jeff’s remaining follicles and have it transplanted from the back of his head to the top.
With your help, we can strike out male pattern baldness.
I texted Smorol that we had to cancel Jeff Kramer Follicle Night.
“Just do it,” the irrepressible Smorol replied. “It will be fine.”
Smorol, who also is as bald as the Carrier Dome roof, assured me that no one with ALS would be on the field, and that the ALS people had “no issue” with my anti-baldness efforts.
Smorol’s a good egg. A year ago, he was saddled with a cheap, joyless franchise that had turned Chiefs games into the baseball equivalent of calling hours. Although the team remains stuck in a generic stadium in a nondescript setting, Smorol has amped up the food, fireworks and fun. Now when you go to a Chiefs game, you actually believe management wants you there.
The other night, as fans exited the park, Smorol stood outside the gate exchanging one-liners and thanking folks for coming. All of that charm and enthusiasm makes him a hard guy to say no to, but I held my ground. Sort of.
As the clock ticked closer to game time, I agreed to throw out the first pitch (the second first pitch, technically) only on the condition that any reference to my baldness or anti-baldness fundraising be dropped from the program. About an hour before the game, a disappointed Smorol agreed to my stipulation. He graciously offered another date for Jeff Kramer Follicle Night, but I’ll take this as a sign.
My campaign to raise money for a hair transplant is officially over. My new position is that I’m proud to be bald, and that bald is sexy.
Or, as George famously said on Seinfeld, “It’s not a lie… if you believe it.”
Watch Kramer throw out the second first pitch below:
Header photo by Michael Davis of the Syracuse New Times
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