Monday, June 7, 2010

Bradford's First Toss on Target

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

Sam Bradford fired his first throw in front of a St. Louis crowd on Friday night and if the result of that throw is any indication of what he’ll be able to do on football Sundays, it certainly bodes well for the Rams franchise quarterback.

Of course, Bradford’s first toss in front his new hometown’s fans didn’t involve a football so had it gone awry, it probably wouldn’t have meant much. As it was, Bradford – with the majority of the Rams rookie class in tow for support – or potential razzing, pending the outcome – threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Cardinals-Brewers game.

And after much consternation and pressure from his teammates and even his coaches, Bradford calmly walked to the mound and fired a strike to St. Louis outfielder Matt Holliday.

“I’m not going to lie, when I got out there I kind of calmed down,” Bradford said, laughing in hindsight. “It was not nearly as nerve racking as I thought it was going to be. I was still a little bit nervous, had some butterflies but I was confident that I would throw a strike.”

Being “just a little nervous” was quite an upgrade over the butterflies Bradford had been feeling since it was first decided he’d be throwing out the first pitch last night.

That decision was made official earlier in the week and literally within moments of being informed of his pitching debut, Bradford sought as many opportunities to get his pitching mechanics in order.

Nearly every day after OTAs and meetings were complete, Bradford and a member of the Rams staff spent a little extra time throwing in the indoor facility at the Russell Training Center.

Of course, it didn’t help Bradford’s nerves that he received constant teasing from his teammates about the possibility that he would bounce one in the dirt or airmail it to the backstop.

Even coach Steve Spagnuolo made mention of applying pressure to Bradford to throw a strike.

“You don’t want to hit him on one bounce,” Spagnuolo said Friday morning. “That would be bad. It wouldn’t be good if the quarterback from the Rams couldn’t throw a strike. We’ll put some pressure on him today.”

After arriving with most of the Rams rookies around 6 p.m., the group took a tour of the Cardinals clubhouse where Bradford stopped to chat with a few players, including Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright.

After that, the group made its way into the Cardinals dugout where Bradford stopped to do a few media interviews. With about 40 minutes before his pitch, Bradford retired to the batting cages near the clubhouse for some last minute work.

Bradford threw even more, including his first toss off an elevated mound since he last played organized baseball way back in the eighth grade. That final session helped alleviate any remaining worry Bradford had.

“There’s no doubt,” Bradford said. “If I wouldn’t have warmed up, I would have been really nervous because I would have had no idea how I’d throw. But I found my release point in the cage and it felt good. I felt good when I got out there.”

After finishing up his warm ups, Bradford chatted up Cardinals closer and Oklahoma fan Ryan Franklin before Holliday, an Oklahoma State graduate, came out to catch the pitch.

Holliday offered a few words of encouragement.

“He was pretty calming,” Bradford said. “He told me someone threw a pretty good pitch right before I went out there so he told me if they can do it, you can do it.”

As any athlete who is used to performing in front of large crowds, Bradford was at his most calm as he took the mound with the baseball in his hands.

Without hesitation, he stepped up to the mound wearing his new Cardinals jersey with his new number 8 on the back, took a windup with a high leg kick and fired a strike with good velocity into Holliday’s waiting glove.

“It’s a little different, a little out of my comfort level because I am not used to throwing a baseball but it was fun,” Bradford said. “It was a great experience.”

In an instant, a week of nerves vanished and Bradford had completed his first pass in front of St. Louis sports fans.

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