|CHICAGO, IL -- There's nothing like the thrill of a big league ball game to make a grown man feel young again.
Tony Gianunzio, a 92-year-old World War II veteran and Kalamazoo resident, said throwing the ceremonial first pitch Sunday at Wrigley Field took him back to 1942 when he was a 19-year-old, up-and-coming pitcher, being recruited by the Chicago Cubs.
"I thought it would just be an echo of the excitement of 1942, but it was like a roar. It went so far beyond what I could have imagined," Gianunzio said.
Gianunzio was set to have a tryout with the Chicago Cubs when the the draft age was lowered to 19, and he was called upon to serve in World War II. After several years as Coast Guard gunner's mate on the USS Machias, his opportunity to play pro ball slipped away.
But more than 70 years later, Gianunzio got the chance to live out his dream.
Wearing a Chicago Cubs cap, he threw from just in front of the rubber of the mound and tossed the ball over the plate on a single bounce, Gianunzio said.
"When I took the mound, I felt like I owned the place. I used the same form that I used to. I threw it, and it took one bounce. ..." Gianunzio said. "If I had a few more practice sessions, I think I could have made it without a bounce."
He said the crowd roared after the pitch.
"I had a rapport with that crowd like nobody's business," Gianunzio said. He got onto the field again in the fourth inning for a special salute.
Gianunzio met many of the Cubs players and shook "hundreds" of fans' hands.
"They couldn't believe I look so young and move so young," he said. "It gave them a joyful shot in the arm. They realized it's possible to grow old and still be young."
The opportunity came about after students from Compass College of Cinematic Arts in Grand Rapids contacted the Cubs organization about Gianunzio, whom they are profiling in a documentary film about World War II veterans. When the Cubs confirmed the details, they invited him to throw out the first pitch.
The film crew was at Wrigley to document the experience for the documentary. The cameras caught an exchange between Gianunzio and a young boy during the game.
"Don't stop playing baseball," Gianunzio told him.