We all know the drill. You arrive early to a St. Louis Cardinals game to make sure you don't miss out on getting a Yadier Molina garden gnome or a Bo Hart bobblehead or whatever the team is giving away that night to the first 30,000 fans with a paid admission.
Your reward for getting to the stadium early is to watch the pre-game festivities, including the ceremonial first pitch.
And then the second ceremonial first pitch.
Finally, when the fourth VIP takes the field to throw the ball in the direction of home plate, you really start to question the whole meaning of the word "first."
A century ago, the first pitch was really the first pitch. When the Capahas opened their season at Fairgrounds Park in 1916, the Cape Girardeau mayor was invited to throw the first pitch -- and it was called a strike.
Before the game, The Weekly Tribune newspaper ran a front-page story promoting the event:
Kage Will Pitch First Ball Sunday
Executive Plans a "Spitter" for Initial Portageville Batsman.
Mayor Kage on Sunday afternoon will open the Capahas baseball season at Fairgrounds park by pitching the first ball, offering the pellet to one initial Portageville batsman with all the skill, dexterity, speed, and "English" that an executive may put upon it.
As a consequence, the Capahas are confidently looking forward to a "strike" on the part of the opposing batter.
Not since the first ball of the opening game last spring has the Mayor entered the "box" to spring his crossfire delivery upon a dazed big-stick artist. But the Mayor keeps in trim for an emergency and last night promised Joe Barenkamp, manager of the Capahas, that he will "put 'er over the pan."
"However, I'll be candid with you and say that I probably could do you more good if I were to take the lead in a horse-shoe pitching contest than mere baseball. It would be like old times to pitch a ringer.
"We never used to play baseball much when I was a boy. We were too busy hunting or fishing, or working, and once in a a while we could get up a game of horse-shoes out behind the barn."
A large crowd is expected to attend the initial game of the Capahas' season in the Southeast Missouri league, which opens with Portageville. Barenkamp has lost one or two of his prospective players to the Portageville team, and according to advance dope, the visitors will have an aggregation of real baseball players along when they come to the Cape.
Portageville is a new team in the league and will fight hard to make an excellent showing at the outset. The Capahas now have a nine that is playing as if the men had had a southern training trip.
The story then continues with an interesting discussion of the Capahas' popularity and their financial situation:
Since the announcement of the schedule of games for the local team, enthusiastic followers of the Cape aggregation have voiced considerable dissatisfaction with the arrangement that was meted out to the Cape.
By reason of the fact that the Cape is one of the largest cities in the league and that baseball crowds large enough to make the game a paying proposition are drawn to the park, the Cape rooters contend that the Capahas should have been slated for games on the home ground two out of every three games scheduled.
The schedule splits the Capahas' time fifty-fifty between the Cape and outside places, so that the team is put to heavy traveling expense. In a majority of the towns where the out-of-town games are played, the crowd is so light that by the time expenses are paid and the Cape gets its share of the gate receipts, there is not enough to break even.
The expense of the team, in addition to the traveling expense, is $84 each game that is played, so that unless something is made for the team from every game, it works a hardship on the finances.
On account of the financial aspect of the situation, many of the outside managers prefer coming to the Cape more often than playing in their own towns, it is said.
So how did the mayor do with his first pitch? Well, the following week, the newspaper reported:
A large crowd witnessed the opening game here. Mayor Kage hurled the initial ball, which went behind the batter instead of over the plate. The batsman, however, took a back-handed swing at it and had a strike called on himself. The Mayor then retired in favor of the pitcher who was going to get paid for doing the twirling.
The mayor's first pitch "strike" was overshadowed by an even more peculiar aspect to this game: an exposed sewer pipe that was in the field of play. According to the newspaper story, this feature helped the Capahas pull off a victory:
A convenient line of exposed sewer pipe, together with a goodly portion of luck and a pitcher who could keep Portageville from hitting the ball, Sunday accounted for the Capahas' 6 to 3 victory over their opponents.
The sewer pipe, which is being covered up along the edge of the outer baseball field, aided two of the Cape boys in making home-runs when the Portageville fielders were unable to retrieve the pill from the sewer and no ground rule had been made in regard to the sewers.
This participation of the 30-inch sewer in the game against them discouraged the Portageville nine, and the Capahas cleaned up in the last two innings they batted.
As an exhibition of good baseball the game was not considered up to standard, although Vangilder, the local twirler, did good work and he was coached into good pitching by his catcher, Snyder.
Somehow I doubt modern-day umpires and players would tolerate having a gaping sewer pipe in the outfield.
Some things haven't changed much in the last century, though. The Capahas are still playing baseball in the same park. And although the practice of ceremonial first pitches isn't quite the same, we still have them.