Pro Bowl Tight End Throws the First Pitch
There are two annual long-time traditions in this community: the Fourth of July race/parade/concert/fireworks and the Pacific Palisades Baseball Association (PPBA) opening-day pancake breakfast.
Under sunny skies and amidst Santa Ana winds on Saturday, Los Angeles Chargers tight end Antonio Gates threw out the first pitch to start the PPBA season.
“I enjoy watching you kids play,” said the 16-year NFL veteran. “There are two things you can do in a sport: 1) make an effort and 2) be mentally tough. Neither of those two things need talent.”
He went onto explain that with effort he meant “playing as hard as you can.” And he described mental toughness as being able to face whatever challenges the weather presents (in an outdoor sport like football and baseball), as well as knowing “if you make a bad play, move on to the next play.”
Gates, who has played for the Chargers since graduating from Kent State University in 2003, threw the first pitch to Jim Ford, who has been a PPBA board member for more than 11 years. “No one did more than Jim,” Commissioner Bob Benton said.
After the ceremonial pitch, Gates, who is friends with Palisadian producer Basil Iwanyk, admitted he thought he’d have to throw the ball from a major league mound.
In the Palisades, the first pitch is generally thrown between the two fields closest to the Rec Center, which enables the kids and parents sitting on the hill to be able to see everything.
“This is great,” Gates said, laughing in relief at having to throw with control from such a short distance.
All smiles, he signed baseballs, footballs and baseball caps and took photos with people for nearly 25 minutes.
Growing up in Detroit, Gates, who has played in the Pro Bowl eight times and is a five-time All-Pro, played basketball, baseball, football and ran the sprints in track.
“When we were growing up, you did everything,” Gates said. “I played every sport.”
A tall lefty (he’s now 6-4), he played first base in baseball.
“Staying inside was a punishment for me,” said Gates, who is sixth in career touchdown receptions with 116. “Kids were always outside.”
He noted that times are changing, and everyone has to try to adapt. The 38-year-old said his generation tried different sports, experiencing personal interactions, rather than just looking at screens, which is a different kind of experience.
He was asked about single-sport athletes, which is a recent trend with parents placing their kids on club and travel teams earlier and earlier. “The kids absolutely suffer more injuries,” said Gates, who noted that branding is another big difference with youth sports today. “The equipment is more about look and style, rather than comfort and support.”
In 2017, the Chargers told Gates they would not bring him back for the 2018 season. But after his replacement was injured, Gates was re-signed last September and he played in 16 games, catching 28 passes for 333 yards as the Chargers reached the playoffs. (According to a story by Adam Wells in the Bleacher Report, Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said Gates’ role for the 2019 season is still being examined.)
A tremendous athlete, the 255-pound Gates played basketball in college. When he initially enrolled at Michigan State, he planned to play both football and basketball. But when he found out the coach only wanted him to play football, he transferred to Eastern Michigan and then a junior college (College of the Sequoias) before going to Kent State for basketball.
A power forward, he helped his team win its second consecutive MAC tournament and a berth in the 2002 NCAA Men’s Division Basketball Tournament. During his senior year at Kent, he received Honorable Mention All-American honors from the Associated Press.
After being told he was too much of a “tweener” to make the NBA, Gates worked out in front of NFL scouts and was signed as an undrafted free agent with the Chargers. He turned out to be one of the greatest undrafted players in NFL history.
UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital was the lead sponsor for PPBA’s opening day ceremonies, with a donation of $2,500. Pearl Dragon underwrote the tickets—and if you were the lucky purchaser of the $5 ticket that included pancakes, sausage and coffee, the ticket stub also included either a free spicy edamame, a kids bento box or a Sapporo draft.
Breakfast co-chairs this year were Robyn Norris Casady and Melissa Berman.
Team sponsors include: Amalfi Estates, Barney’s Beanery, Dr. Gary Polan, Dr. Marta Ward, Dr. Steven Lee, Dr. Ileana Zapatero, Gerry Blanck’s Martial Arts Center, KaynDaves, Marc Michel Eyewear, Movies in the Park, O’Keefe Properties, Pacific Palisades Medical Group, Palisades Garden Café, Pearl Dragon, Skinner Vineyards, StorQuest Self Storage, Sue Kohl/Berkshire Hathaway Home Services, The Agency/Santiago Arana, The Feil Group, The Golden Bull, The Oppenheim Group, The Optimist Club, Palisadian-Post, US Bank, Village 76 and The Yogurt Shoppe.
Playoffs will start on Saturday, May 18. No games Easter weekend or Memorial Day weekend. Closing ceremonies will be held June 8.
Last year’s World Series winners were the Pinto Cubs, coached by Tripp Nassour; the Mustang Cubs, coached by Blake Schinto; and the Bronco Yankees, coached by Brian Grimes. The winning players and the coaches rode on a float in the Fourth of July parade.