Jim Nugent makes his pitch for the Cardinals

Bureau Valley K-5 PE teacher throws a strike on ‘first-pitch’ opportunity

Jim Nugent celebrated his "first pitch" at Monday's Cardinals game with his family and Fredbird - Amber, Mac, Nolan, Mya and his nephew, Everett.

Jim Nugent grew up 1 1/2 hours away from St. Louis in New Haven, Mo., dreaming about playing for the Cardinals one day.

His first memories of being a Cardinals fan are going to a game in the early 80s watching Ozzie Smith do his famous back flip as he took his position at short stop.

“I’ve seen (the flip) on TV, but to see it in person, I was just blown away by it,” he said. “What a cool thing And then just the crack of the bat. Watching the first game I went to and hearing everything and the sounds of the crowd.”

He really got into following the Cardinals during the 1987 World Series against the Twins and especially loved Willie McGee, like many, many other Cardinal fans, and Ozzie.

He later talked his wife into buying tickets for every game of the 1996 NLCS at Busch Stadium against the Braves when they were living in St. Louis.

On Monday, Nugent, 47, a K-5 PE teacher for Bureau Valley, lived out his dream. He didn’t get to play for the Cardinals, but he did throw out a first pitch at Busch Stadium.

He stepped out to the mound under the shadows of the Arch just off the Mississippi River, in front of thousands of Cardinals fans still gathering for the night’s game, including his family and about 30 extended family members from Missouri.

And he threw a perfect strike, right down the middle to Cardinals infielder Jose Fermin, who had the night’s task of catching the first pitches.

“That was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. I was blown away. Of course, I was nervous,” he said. “I just walked there, gave it a throw and it was a good pitch. So I was happy about that.

“It was a surreal kind of moment ... like, ‘Is this happening?’”

Fermin never moved his glove and gave a strike signal after making the catch. Nugent chatted with Fermin, got a picture with him and Fredbird, the mascot, and had the ball and his glove autographed by the Cardinals infielder.

Nugent admitted to Fermin he was pretty nervous and told him he didn’t know how they played in front of so many people every day.

“He said, ‘Ah, you just get used to it after awhile.’ What a nice guy,” he said.

Nugent prepped for his big moment, playing catch with his daughter, Mya, and son, Nolan, for about 10 minutes a night leading up to the event. It was Mya’s glove he took with him to the mound at Busch Stadium, because it made him more comfortable.

“I did that for the last couple weeks. I was nervous about it. I didn’t want to bounce the ball in there,” he said. “Most people probably don’t even think about those kind of things. I wanted to be able to throw a strike. I knew I only had one opportunity to make a good throw, so I wanted to be ready for it.”

As a big Cardinals fan, he said the moment was everything he dreamed it would have been.

“Being on the field, walking down there where the players walk. Coming out on the field .... I can’t even describe it. Just the fact I got to be standing out there on the field. It was so cool,” he said. “It was nerve-wracking. But walking out there to the mound, it was a dream come true.

“Anybody that loves baseball. Anybody that loves the Cardinals. I don’t have to tell you. It’s just a tradition deep-rooted in you. I loved every second of it.”

Bureau Valley K-5 PE teacher Jim Nugent was welcomed by the St. Louis Cardinals to throw out the first pitch for Monday's game by Fredbird and Cardinals infielder Jose Fermin.

Nugent’s first pitch throw was gifted to him by his high school buddy, Clayton Kuhn, a lawyer in St. Louis, who had won the opportunity at a charity auction.

“I’ve known him all my life. He has a heart of gold,” Nugent said. “We share the love for the Cardinals. I went to Game 7 of the 2011 World Series when we won and it was because of him. He called and said, ‘Hey, do you want to go?’ We went and watched them win the World Series. It was just crazy down there.”

Kevin Hieronymus has been the BCR Sports Editor since 1986. Contact him at khieronymus@bcrnews.com