As a teenager, Tony Gianunzio dreamed of pitching at Wrigley Field, propelling the Chicago Cubs to a World Series title and breaking a long championship drought … at the time, more than 30 whole years.
World affairs had other ideas: A few months after drawing some attention during a Cubs tryout camp in 1942, Gianunzio would be in the Coast Guard, eventually headed into service in the Pacific as a gunner’s mate aboard the patrol frigate Machias.
“The summer of ’42 had promised me the best of days,” Gianunzio would write in his memoir. “Youth had seemed a forever gift, and now all of it was being taken away.”
Seventy years later, he got at least a little of it back.
Gianunzio, 92, threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Sunday’s Cubs-Kansas City Royals game — the team still in Wrigley Field, the World Series trophy case still empty since 1908. Only the names have changed: Relief pitcher Justin Grimm (born 1988) served as catcher for the pre-game ceremonies; a young Gianunzio had dreamed of getting signals from Gabby Hartnett (born 1900, retired 1941).
Pre-war scouting reports are hard to come by, but Gianunzio offered his own to The Associated Press, saying he “could throw that ball beyond 90 miles an hour and I had a curve like nobody else had one.” The ceremonial throw bounced a few times before reaching Grimm, but the former Coastie said he wanted to return after a few more months of practice — at which point, he said, “I know I can reach home plate with a decent curve ball.”
Gianunzio taught English and writing to high schoolers for four decades after leaving service, AP reported, and hadn’t thrown a baseball in 45 years before a few practice sessions leading up to his Wrigley Field debut. The Cubs brought him in after being contacted by a Michigan film school, where Gianunzio is the subject of a documentary project.
His effort reportedly outshined that of famous actor, troop-supporter and occasional cartoon mob boss Joe Mantegna, who also threw out a first pitch that was both short and wide of the plate.
The Cubs won, 2-1, perhaps thanks in part to some karma: Grimm pitched 1 1/3 perfect innings, striking out three.