The first strike thrown at Kauffman Stadium Saturday night came from Independence police officer Tom Wagstaff, who received a lengthy standing ovation.
He threw a perfect pitch in an emotionally charged opening-pitch ceremony before the Chicago White Sox-Kansas City Royals game.
Joined by his wife Stacy, sons Jordan, 17, and Alex, 14, and physical therapist, Grain Valley High School graduate Austin Graham, Wagstaff was wheeled onto the field in a wheelchair, about 35 feet from home plate.
The officer, who was wounded in the line of duty March 27, 2017, then stood – with the help of Graham, Stacy and a walker – and fired the ball to Royals catcher Cam Gallagher.
Gallagher returned the ball to Wagstaff, bent down close to his ear, and said, “A perfect strike.”
That comment came as no surprise to Gallagher.
“That’s what I’ve been working on for months,” said Wagstaff, who seemed to relish his moment in the spotlight because he was able to share it with his family. “In fact, we incorporated throwing a baseball into my rehabilitation program. I didn’t want to come out here and embarrass myself – I wanted to throw a strike.”
As he waited in a runway to make his way onto the field, Wagstaff jokingly asked, “While I’m out there, can I sing the national anthem, too?”
That comment was met with groans by many of the police officers who took part in a daylong ceremony that began at 11 a.m. at Brittany Hills Middle School, where Blue Springs police officer Keegan Hughes completed his nine-day, 260-mile marathon from St. Louis to Kansas City.
He jogged from the right field bullpen and delivered the opening pitch baseball to Wagstaff.
“I haven’t really said this to anyone,” Stacy Wagstaff said, following the ceremony, “but one year ago today – to this very day – I was told by a surgeon with 30 years of experience that my husband was not going to make it. He was in a coma, and I was told to expect the inevitable – that he would not make it out of the hospital alive.”
“That was March 29, 2017. And today, March 29, 2018 Tom is throwing out the first pitch at Kauffman Stadium. He is a miracle.”
She paused for a moment, looking at her husband and two sons, and added, “He is our miracle.”
The word miracle was used several times Saturday as Hughes, Lt. Steve Decker and Det. Sean Dodge, the president of Project Remember (which raises funds for fallen first responders) took part in a ceremony to honor the Blue Springs police officer who wrapped up his 31-mile-per-day trek across the state.
“It was quite a grueling trek, but we made it and are here today to honor Officer Hughes and Officer Wagstaff,” said Lt. Decker, whose son Jason, a detective in the Kansas City Police Department, took part in a KC 690 helicopter flyover at Brittany Hills Middle School.
Hughes, wearing full police gear and carrying a Project Remember flag, made the cross-state trip in nine days. He was not able to run outside one day, because of lightning and heavy rain, so he ran 31 miles on a treadmill at the Highway Patrol Academy near Jefferson City.
A day before his journey ended, Hughes suffered a hamstring injury and finished the final leg on a bike, while Dodge ran beside him, carrying the Project Remember flag.
“It is such an honor to be here today,” Dodge said, before joining Hughes on the final leg from Blue Springs to Kauffman Stadium – Hughes on a bike, Dodge running alongside. “The awareness Officer Hughes has raised, the funds, the entire journey is something we will remember for a long time.”
Hughes, who honored fallen officers and first responders at several stops along his marathon, met with the families of fallen Kansas City firefighters Larry Leggio and John Mesh at Brittany Hills.
“This has been an amazing journey,” Hughes said. “We’re here for our fallen brothers, for Officer Wagstaff – who is a miracle man – and to raise awareness and money along the way. It’s been tough – especially the past two days because I had to finish on a bicycle – but the support and love I experienced along the way is something I will always remember.”
Saturday was a day of remembrance for so many individuals.
“Today was very special,” Wagstaff said. “When I found out I was getting to do this I was amazed, surprised, humbled and honored – all at the same time. I got to share this with my family, my fellow officers and so many others here at the stadium.”
“It was a lifetime worth of memories all in one night.”