*The surprise appearance of Muhammad Ali to throw out the Miami Marlins’ unannounced first pitch in their new Marlins Park has made headlines for the unintended, awkward hush that came over the crowd.
Owner Jeffrey Loria’s superstar guest got a rousing cheer from the crowd, but it quickly turned to a heavy hush at the sight of the obviously ailing 70-year-old, whose body is overwhelmed by the effects of Parkinson’s Disease. [Scroll down to watch.]
Ali, who no longer speaks in public, was wheeled onto the field in a cart moving at a very slow crawl, his arms shaking heavily while a smiling Loria clutched one hand and supported Ali with an arm around his shoulders, notes the Huffington Post.
The reaction from the sympathetic crowd wasn’t what the Marlins apparently intended: the stadium’s PA announcer, after what seemed like several minutes of near-silence, valiantly tried to start an “Ali! Ali!” chant over the loudspeaker.
Eventually, shortstop Hanley Ramirez took the ball from Ali’s right hand, and the game was on. But though the appearance had all the star quality a five-minute first pitch on ESPN could possibly hope for, the effect was both upsetting to some and to all in stark contrast with the flashy style and celebratory mood that accompanied the rest of the team’s Opening Day ceremonies.
The crowd both in stadium and on Twitter reacted with an apparent mix of depressed sympathy, mass confusion, and, at least online, open suspicion over Loria’s motives.
“It was uncomfortable,” observed Fox Sports’ senior baseball writer Ken Rosenthal. “And I think unnecessary.”
“The opening of Marlins Park started off with a parade of showgirls and Jose Feliciano singing the National Anthem,” wrote Deadspin’s Erik Malinowski. “It ended with the sad, shameless sight of Loria trotting out Ali’s disease-ravaged body for a forced on-field ceremony. Happy Opening Day, everyone.”