Astronaut makes first-pitch history
Lifelong Yankees fan lets one fly from space station
NEW YORK -- It was one short toss for man, and one giant leap for the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.
NASA astronaut Dr. Garrett Reisman threw out a ceremonial first pitch from the International Space Station prior to the Yankees' game against the Red Sox on Wednesday, the first ceremonial first pitch thrown from space in Yankee Stadium's history.
It was, as you would only expect from a rivalry that once prominently featured Bill "Spaceman" Lee, out of this world. Reisman was displayed on the right-field video board, shown wearing a Yankees cap, a navy blue T-shirt bearing the "NY" insignia and jeans.
Floating in a walkway of the space station and introduced to cheers, Reisman said that he is enjoying his stay at the space station but looked forward to getting back with the Bleacher Creatures and cheering on his favorite Yankees like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano.
"There are many nations and there is only one universe, and it's a Yankee universe," Reisman said, drawing more cheers before uncorking a pitch that floated past the camera.
Reisman, 40, docked at the International Space Station on March 12, carrying dirt from the Yankee Stadium pitcher's mound, a Yankees banner and a hat autographed by Yankees principal owner George M. Steinbrenner.
"Launching on the Space Shuttle and living aboard the International Space Station is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Reisman said in a statement released through the club. "But as a lifelong Yankees fan, throwing out the first pitch at a Yankees-Red Sox game is also a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"I am really honored to have this opportunity in such a historic season in the House that Ruth Built, and I would like to thank the Yankees for being so supportive of our mission up here in space. From earth's orbit, but still deep inside the Yankees universe, let me say, 'Go Yanks!'"
The first pitch from the International Space Station was actually not the first in Major League Baseball. The Red Sox set one up last year with NASA astronauts Michael Lopez-Alegria and Suni Williams live at Fenway Park for the Sept. 16 game against New York.
Lopez-Alegria was following Wednesday's event with interest, and he noted in an email to MLB.com that this actually was the third time a ceremonial first pitch in Major League Baseball has been thrown from space. The first one, he said, was in conjunction with Game 5 of the 1995 World Series between the Braves and Indians at Jacobs Field.
"I was one of a seven-person crew performing a microgravity research mission on Columbia," Lopez-Alegria recalled. "They showed video of the pitch coming at the camera that we had recorded on board on the big screen at the field, and then a ball landed in center field. We took hats from both the Indians and the Braves on that mission. I still have the Braves hat (gave the Indians hat to Mike Hargrove who was the manager at the time) when I got to throw out a real first pitch at Jacobs Field the following season."
This also was a continuation of MLB's cooperation with NASA to make baseball the interstellar pastime. Major League Baseball Advanced Media has worked with NASA to provide MLB.com Gameday Audio feeds that have been uplinked to the Space Station to keep astronauts such as Lopez-Alegria updated on their favorite teams whenever time is allowed amidst their experiments.
Yankees players reacted with amusement to the news that a Yankee Stadium ceremonial first pitch would actually be tossed from outer space.
"It'd have to be a pretty long throw, wouldn't it?" said infielder Morgan Ensberg, who attempted in vain to remember his physics schooling at the University of Southern California, trying to figure out how a baseball would react if tossed out of the space station itself.
Outfielder Johnny Damon grinned and said, "It would be cool if it ever happened," moments before he was informed that he would actually have the opportunity to watch one on the right-field video board Wednesday.
Damon makes his home in Orlando, Fla., and said that during night launches, he can see the Space Shuttle when it takes off from Cape Canaveral, leaving long fire streaks through the sky. Occasionally on re-entry, the Shuttle also creates a "sonic boom" heard miles away.
"I yelled at [my wife] Michelle the last time and said, 'Stop slamming the doors,'" Damon said.
A native of Parsippany, N.J., and a lifelong Yankees fan, Reisman is making his first trip into space as a member of the Expedition 16 and Expedition 17 crews. He is in the midst of a planned four-month stay aboard the International Space Station, which is located more than 200 miles away from the earth's surface.
Reisman conducted his first spacewalk on March 13 and is conducting numerous tasks with the International Space Station's robotic arm and robotic manipulator, Dextre. He was launched into space on March 11 aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour and is scheduled to return aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in June.
Reisman was originally selected by NASA as a mission specialist in 1998 when he began his astronaut training. In June 2003, Reisman was a crew member on NEEMO V, living on the bottom of the sea in the Aquarius habitat for two weeks.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.