Shaun Belway was surprised and then became “incredibly nervous” when he learned he would be throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Dodger Stadium on Sunday before the major-league game between the L.A. Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks.
“I’ve played football, basketball, soccer, martial arts … but never baseball,” Belway said.
He was chosen by the Dodgers because he is the grandson of Jim Gilliam, a Dodger great whose retired number 19 was on pins given out to fans attending the game.
Belway went out and bought some baseballs two days before the game so he could get in some practice throws at the Santa Barbara High diamond. He was a 2002 graduate of the school, where he was an outstanding defensive end on the football team.
Keeping himself in physical shape by hiking and playing basketball, Belway has a reputation for tossing ingredients into a cocktail shaker. He is the bar manager at the Bobcat Room on West Ortega Street. In 2013, when he worked at the Hungry Cat, he won The Santa Barbara Independent’s Silver Shaker Award.
“If I threw pitches like I mixed drinks, I’d have a lot of funky stuff,” he said.
Come Sunday, as the game time approached, Belway was nervous all over again. He was outfitted in a Jim Gilliam jersey as he played catch on the third-base line with Emily Gregorio, a Dodgers’ ball girl. Then he strode out to the mound, surrounded by photographers, and was introduced to the crowd.
Joc Pederson, a Dodgers’ outfielder, was the catcher. Belway wound up and delivered his pitch off the front of the mound. It snapped into Pederson’s glove. “Straight and true,” Belway said. Pederson agreed: “It was a great pitch.”
Belway had one more task. He was given a microphone and told to make a traditional announcement over the public address system. “All right, everybody,” he said. “It’s time for Dodger baseball!”
But that was not the end of Belway’s adventure. He watched the game, along with some family and friends, in premium box seats on the left-field line. In the top of the eighth inning, Arizona’s Brandon Drury hit a screaming foul ball, clocked at 108 miles per hour, in their direction. Roland Reese, seated next to Belway, was looking down at his cellphone. Gregorio, the ball girl who’d helped Belway warm up before the game, leaped off her stool made a back-handed catch.
“She caught it two feet in front of my friend’s head,” Belway said. “It might have killed him.”
Gregorio, who handed the ball to Reese, received a robust ovation from the crowd. Replays of her catch made highlight shows Sunday night and the ABC World News on Monday.
The game itself featured a lot of hitting by the Dodgers, who won, 14-3. Pederson’s two-run homer in the eighth capped the scoring.
Belway never knew his grandfather, to whom the game was dedicated. Jim “Junior” Gilliam wore a Dodgers uniform from 1953, when he made his debut with the club in Brooklyn, to the day he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in October of 1978, his 14th season as their coach. Prior to Game 1 of the 1978 World Series, the Dodgers retired his number.
Gilliam was a switch-hitting infielder. He played third base during most of his time in L.A. He played in seven World Series – that’s seven more than any Dodger since 1988. He was known for his baseball smarts. The Dodgers made him a player-coach for two years before he started coaching full-time.
“Baseball was an art form for my dad,” said Katherine Gilliam Belway, Shaun’s mother.
“He was loved by the [Dodgers] organization,” said Shaun, who was born on Christmas Day, 1983, in Santa Barbara. “He’d do whatever they needed to help them win. That’s the kind of player I like to be.”