Meet Marc Levine, the Mets photographer who almost got hit by 50 Cent's first pitch
Every so often, there's a seminal moment that captures the world's attention. It brings everyone together for a brief instant in time and, in the years that follow, serves as a nostalgic "Hey, wow, remember that thing happened?" There's the moon landing, there was the fall of the Berlin Wall and, five years ago today, 50 Cent's truly awful first pitch:
New York Mets announcer Gary Cohen called it "not great." Twitter deemed it the worst ceremonial first pitch ever. 50 Cent stated, "I'm a hustler not a damn ball player. LMAO."
But there was one person who didn't react. In fact, his job, in that situation, made it so that he couldn't react. And he did that job incredibly well -- even as the wayward projectile sailed toward him. Marc Levine, chief Mets photographer.
We recently spoke to Marc to take us through the evening of May 27, 2014. Did he sense something might go wrong before it all happened? How did everything look from his point of view? Does he still have nightmares with 50's smiling, whoops-look-what-I-did face staring back into his eyes?
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Thanks for doing this, Marc. I know you probably have some more important things to do, and we appreciate it. Since you were a major player in that whole situation, could you just take us through the day a little bit?
Well, I mean, we were definitely really excited and anticipating his arrival. Excited about him being here and all that stuff. We were gonna have the postgame concert with him a few weeks later. He was out on the field for batting practice, meeting some of the guys. He was taking pictures, posing for the press, having a blast.
He went into the bullpen and I actually went in there with him when he was throwing off the mound.
So, he practiced – he was practicing?
Yeah, he was throwing off the mound to kinda loosen up. Practiced what the distance was gonna look like and feel like.
How was he throwing in the bullpen? Was it OK?
He was throwing well. I can’t say 100 percent that he was throwing strikes. Nothing was really going astray, where, you know, it was like "cover your head." His form was good: He kinda throws about 3/4, not over the top, comes sidearm a little bit. Seemed like he was ready to go when he was called upon to do it.
OK, so then you all made your way out to the field?
Yeah, after that it was getting pretty close to game time and we were back out on the field. He was acknowledging the crowd, hanging out near our dugout, stuff like that.
And then he took the mound.
I’m normally lined up depending on the pitcher. If the person is throwing and they’re right-handed, I’ll stand a little bit up the third-base side. If they’re left-handed, I’ll switch to the other side. I saw the way he was gonna throw, so I moved to the spot I’d normally be in.
When the ball came out of his hand, I could actually see that it was coming in on an angle and there were two frames where I could actually see the ball getting bigger.
I kinda held the camera up, and I didn’t flinch at all because I was just preparing myself that, if the ball was gonna hit me, it was gonna hit my camera first. Instead of my face.
But at that point it just literally whizzed by me, by my ear, to the point where it almost sounded like when a bee goes “bzzz” by you. You wanted to put your hand up to your ear to swat it away.
Was it the worst you've ever seen?
I’ve had pitches like that in the past that have kinda gone astray and gone near me, but not that close (Levine has been the Mets photographer for 30 years). Definitely not that close. It was unusual how far away it went. As a person who’s standing close to home plate, you’re always ready -- from a little child to an older person to a celebrity -- to kinda let it go where it’s not supposed to go.
Athletes you can breathe a little easier knowing it’s probably going directly toward the mitt of the catcher. But some of these other people, who may not have thrown it before, especially in front of 10-20-30,000 people – their stuff gets the best of them and they might lose it a little bit.
Did he say anything after?
He was laughing and then, you know, as we were walking off, he saw my face and just kinda laughed with his arms out saying sorry. I think he then went to his seat to watch the game.
Did you know how infamous it would become? How memorable? Did you know it would become this big viral video?
Yeah. I think when something like that happens, which is not that often, the first thing we all say to each other on the field is “SportsCenter.” This is gonna be on SportsCenter.
Also, I had a friend of my wife’s, who was working at the time in South Africa. Within a matter of a few hours, he had sent her an email or text message saying, "I just saw Marc almost got hit by 50 Cent!" It was on television all over the world. That was kinda the first time that had ever happened, that somebody halfway around the world had said that they’d actually seen something like that.
Matt Monagan is a writer for MLB.com. In his spare time, he travels and searches Twitter for Wily Mo Peña news.