10,000 retweets later, A's fan Eric Nelson threw a first pitch -- but his story is much bigger than that
Eric Nelson, a 43-year-old lifelong A's fan, had an exceptionally tough year in 2017. But, before all of that, he decided to send out a tweet:
The day after his first-pitch inquiry, Nelson told MLB.com, he began feeling sick. His tumultuous year had begun.
Diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer, Nelson would eventually go through multiple rounds of chemotherapy and treatment -- and while that was going on, a house fire damaged his family home and claimed the life of his cat.
But, Nelson did his best to keep going.
"Fast-forward through a year of seven rounds of infusion chemo, three surgeries, almost a month of hospital stays, my house catching fire and my uncle and my cat passing away, and my original question pops up on Timehop," he remembers. "And I asked again."
This time, he received a reply:
Alright, we'll play ball. 10,000 retweets and you'll throw out a first pitch. 👍 pic.twitter.com/TYrWPXtOjB- Oakland Athletics 🌳🐘⚾️ (@Athletics) January 22, 2018
It was a surprise.
"[I felt] abject terror. I never thought the A's would ever come back with a serious number. I figured, at best, there would be some playful back and forth banter. I never figured they'd call my bluff."
From there, thanks to A's fans on Twitter, former A's reliever Sean Doolittle and former A's bat boy MC Hammer, he racked up the needed RTs:
Excellent https://t.co/ePDUBtJZQK- Eric Nelson (@gallopingael) January 22, 2018
"I should have started [preparing] a lot sooner than I did," Nelson admits now. "The first step was buying a glove, because one had been lost to the fire. Then I went out tossing the ball with friends a few times this week. I didn't set foot on a field till the day before."
But this wouldn't be quite as simple a first pitch as you'd think. "Because of the chemo," Nelson acknowledges, "I have severe neuropathy in my feet. The pain can be negligible at times and crippling at others."
That meant throwing from the mound was out: "I knew trying to land on them, while on a mound, would likely have made for great, but embarrassing, television. So it wasn't until Sunday that I got the distance from the front of the mound locked in."
All of that practice and perseverence came to a head on Monday night when Nelson took the mound for his ceremonial first pitch before the A's matchup with the Astros.
But, just minutes before his big moment, he received some words of encouragement from Doolittle:
"My advice would be to get out there and just be in the moment for a second," Nelson remembers Doolittle telling him. "Take a good look around and just take it all in. Look up at Mount Davis and all around the bowl. I try to do it every time I come in to pitch no matter what stadium I'm in because it helps me appreciate how cool of an opportunity it is to be on a big league mound. Just enjoy it man."
"I'm still in awe of this. That 10,000 friends, family and strangers would do this is incredible," he says. "A lot of tonight was spent going around and visiting with friends, new and old, who helped make this happen."
Sadly, Monday also saw the news that Gretchen Piscotty, mother of A's outfielder Stephen Piscotty, had passed away after a battle with ALS. Nelson opted to wear a Piscotty jersey for his pitch in honor of Gretchen's memory, in addition to the fact that Stephen's younger brother, Austin Piscotty, plays baseball for Nelson's alma mater, Saint Mary's College in nearby Moraga, Calif.
"To be on that mound, on this day, is going to have a special significance for me, and I will hold on to that forever. The entire staff was kind and went out of their way to make sure this was an incredible experience for me and my friends and family."
But Nelson's first pitch wasn't just a great memory -- it was also a celebration.
"I got the word that I'm in remission in late February. This entire experience has been amazing and will mean everything to me for the rest of my life. It's been a great way to celebrate getting that news."