PITTSBURGH — Many Little Leaguers and other baseball players in western Pa. have had the dream to one day pitch in the Major Leagues at PNC Park.
Lesa Walker, owner of Walker's Auto Parts, didn't get to play a game at the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates; however, she was the winner of a contest that allowed her to throw out the first pitch of a game July 23 between the Pirates and Chicago Cubs as the winner of a promotion with Uni-Select — an auto parts warehouse with which she deals.
She said the drawing was sponsored through Uni-Select by Monroe Shocks and Walker Exhaust and ran for several months.
Lesa said when they told her the week before that she was the winner, she couldn't believe it.
"Uni-Select told me I could bring another person with me down on the field, so I asked 'Sis' Mizerock, and she went down on the field and took pictures of me on the mound," she said.
Walker said she was impressed that Frank Coonelly, Pirates president, came down on the field with her and signed the ball that she threw, which was a perfect strike right down the middle.
"He said he wanted to stay and watch the first pitch, but I didn't expect to throw a strike like that," she said.
Lesa said she did practice some the day before.
"That's why I didn't tell anybody I was going to throw out the first pitch, because I was afraid I'd throw a dirt ball if they were all watching," Walker said, adding that it isn't easy to throw a pitch 60 feet (the approximate distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate).
Lesa said everyone was very nice to her when she was there.
The Pirates catcher, Michael McHenry, who caught Lesa's pitch, said she was about the fifth person to throw a strike like that with him behind the plate.
"It was a lot of fun, and when I was finished he (McHenry) posed for a picture with me," Lesa said, adding that when she told her mom and dad she had won, they hurried up to get tickets for themselves and her brothers.
She said, coincidentally, there was a bus of fans from Punxsy in attendance at that game.
Walker said Monroe Shocks had a suite at PNC Park where they were able to watch the game.
Lesa said the Pirates jersey with pink lettering on it was given to her by a friend, Carol Hankinson.
She said when you first step onto the pitchers mound, and you see all of these people staring at you, it is quite unnerving.
"I said, 'Please, let me throw that strike, God," Lesa said, reiterating that, most importantly, she just didn't want her pitch to end up in the dirt.
"It gives you a good feeling when you stand out there," she said. "I knew there were people from Punxsy and some people from Ohio that I knew, and they actually recorded my first pitch. I just know how fast it went and how nervous I was. I threw overhand, just like a regular baseball pitch."
Lesa said her cousin, Brandi Walker, asked her to come over to her house, and she would warm her up.
"First we found out what the distance was — 60 feet," she said. "The first five pitches I threw to her were strikes, and Brandi said I was going to do fine."
Lesa said this particular day was one that she won't soon forget.