It was the biggest moment of his young pitching career and even with nobody standing in the batter’s box, 15-year-old Dean Habbestad of Valley Springs felt the pressure.
On Tuesday, July 16, Habbestad was given the privilege of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the Major League Baseball game between the Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners at the Oakland Coliseum in honor of his grandfather and Vietnam veteran Willie Sharp.
Habbestad, who began his sophomore year at Calaveras High School on Wednesday morning, is no stranger to pressure situations on a baseball diamond, pitching and playing first base for the Calaveras JV baseball team during a league championship season last spring in his freshman year.
“He’s a great kid with a sports history knowledge like no other,” CHS JV baseball coach Anthony Flores said. “He pitched a very big game for us against Argonaut.”
But pitching in the Mother Lode League and taking the mound in a Major League ballpark are two different things.
“He said he wasn’t nervous right up to the point when he was about to let go of the ball,” said Dean’s mother Mikey Habbestad of the ceremonial first pitch. “He had a field pass around his neck and it was a little breezy so the wind was blowing (the pass) around, which was kind of distracting.
“He wasn’t sure what kind of pitch to throw and his coach told him to throw his full windup, which he did.”
Standing on the same mound where former A’s pitching greats like Vida Blue, Catfish Hunter, Dave Stewart, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito, among others, once stood, Dean Habbestad worked through his windup. As he let the pitch fly, all the nerves he had been holding back released with it. “Oh God!” he thought.
But, as it turned out, there was nothing to worry about.
“It was a great pitch,” Mikey Habbestad said.
The opportunity to throw out the first pitch came about for Dean Habbestad through a partnership between the Oakland Athletics and the USS Hornet Sea, Air and Space Museum.
July 16 was Hornet Day at the Oakland Coliseum in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 splashdown. It was the USS Hornet that recovered the Apollo 11 Astronauts from the Pacific Ocean after their return trip from the first moon landing.
Willie Sharp is currently a docent on the USS Hornet, which is docked in Alameda, and formerly recovered on the USS Hornet after being shot down in Vietnam. A long-time A’s fan, he was thrilled when the team invited him to throw out the first pitch at the July 16 game and didn’t want to pass up the opportunity despite health concerns.
“He is 78 and not in great health, so he asked (the A’s) if his grandson could throw it in his honor and they said yes,” Mikey Habbestad said.
Not only did the A’s allow Dean Habbestad to throw out the first pitch in his grandfather’s honor, they provided tickets for the whole Calaveras JV baseball team to come down and watch the game that night against the Mariners.
The A’s followed Dean’s first pitch with a 9-2 victory, capping a memorable night.
“It was one of those pinch-me moments,” Mikey Habbestad said. “We are life-long A’s fan. I grew up in Pleasanton and my dad still lives there. This is something we won’t soon forget.”