The first pitch of the Major League Baseball regular season Sunday is going to be delivered by a running back.
Pittsburgh football's James Conner will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Pirates hosts the Cardinals in the first game of the 2016 regular season. The Steel City has rallied around Conner, who has become an inspirational figure within Pittsburgh and beyond as the All-America running back undergoes cancer treatment.
The 2014 ACC player of the year was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma on Thanksgiving during the 2015 season, which he was already missing because of a torn knee ligament.
“I'm honored and thrilled to throw out the first pitch for the Pirates' season opener and I want to thank everyone in the organization for this incredible invitation,” Conner said. “It has been a long time since I played baseball but I'll make sure my arm is ready to throw a strike on Sunday. The Bucs’ road to the World Series begins this weekend and I can't wait to be at PNC Park.”
Conner became the face of a struggling Panthers program in 2014 when he rushed for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns. He has become one of the faces of the Pittsburgh sports scene the last few months in the wake of his response to his cancer diagnosis.
While undergoing chemotherapy treatments, Conner has continued working out with the team, which is in the midst of spring practice. Conner said he plans to play in 2016.
“Fear is a choice,” Conner said in December when his diagnosis was publicly revealed. “I choose to not fear cancer. I choose to fight it, and I will win.”
Even if Conner’s arm is a little sluggish, he is certain to draw one of the biggest Opening Day ovations across baseball.