J.J. Watt's Baseball Adventure
J.J. Watt even brings crazy intensity to Astros first pitch duties: NFL star goes to extremes
J.J. Watt is simply not wired like the rest of us.
The NFL's reigning Defensive Player of the Year refuses to let up, refuses to give into lowered expectations — even when it comes to something that's seemingly trivial in the big scheme of his sporting life. Like throwing out the ceremonial first pitch for the Houston Astros' home opener Sunday night.
Watt left little doubt he's attacking that assignment with the same relentless intensity he displays on the football field.
"On Wednesday I threw a bullpen session," Watt says Friday evening at Minute Maid Park.
Yes, J.J. Watt — one of the top players in the NFL — is throwing nearly 50 high-intensity pitches to get ready to throw one Sunday night.
When several reporters smile at this, expecting a silly offseason story, the Houston Texans defensive end quickly corrects them.
"I'm not kidding," Watt says, his own smile disappearing for a moment. "I'm 100 percent serious. I threw about 45 pitches."
Yes, J.J. Watt — one of the top players in the NFL — is throwing nearly 50 high-intensity pitches to get ready to throw one Sunday night. Watt estimates he threw "65 to 70 percent" of those 45 pitches in his bullpen session for strikes.
And it's clear, he's not kidding about this either.
This is part of the reason he's J.J. Watt and you're not. While this and his freakish athletic ability for a 6-foot-5, 295-pound man.
Watt showed some of that off Friday night as well, taking batting practice with the Astros prior to one of the team's last exhibition games before the real thing Sunday night.
Decked out in a Colts .45s hat, an Astros No. 99 jersey and orange Nike shoes, Watt struggled a little early in the cage, but he hit some impressive shots later, including a booming blast to left field. That was part of a three home runs in a row stretch.
Which of course left J.J. Watt completely unsatisfied.
"I'm disappointed," he says.
Which Watt vows will not happen on Sunday night. The football star will not be walking off the mound with ESPN's cameras rolling and the Astros and Texas Rangers waiting to play anything less than pleased.
He's certain of it. He's put the preparation in.
"I'll be much more ready for my first pitch than I was for batting practice," Watt says. "I didn’t go to the cages at all. I threw a full bullpen session . . . expect some heat on Sunday."
Again, we're talking about a freaking first pitch.
I've covered hundreds of Major League Baseball games in my nearly two decades in sports writing and I've seen exactly one memorable first pitch. That was when George W. Bush threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium before Game 3 of the 2001 World Series after 9-11 and you could see the Secret Service snipers on the roofs of nearby buildings from the press box.
Yet I have no doubt that somehow J.J. Watt is going to make it two Sunday night. That's just what he does.
"I threw a full bullpen session . . . expect some heat on Sunday."
He's a showman. After he switched to Rick Ankiel's bat during the batting practice and started hitting home runs, he deadpanned to Ankiel, "Has to be the bat."
Watt even turned a pre-hitting encounter with legendary Astros announcer Milo Hamilton on the field into something of a straight man routine. "I'm kidding," Hamilton said several times as Watt stood there grinning.
When he started hitting that run of home runs to left field, one the Astros coaches called out, "Should we put on the shift?" — joking about defensive alignment changes used against hitters with pronounced tendencies. Watt chuckled at that one.
It's good to be a star.
Astros owner Jim Crane even joked about signing the Texan.
"As big as he is . . . " Crane. "He has a big contract though."
And you didn't think Jim Crane — who has seen the Astros small, total rebuild payroll ripped by everyone from Peter Gammons to Scott Boras — has a sense of humor?
Watt has a way of bringing that out in people. Even if he will not let himself relax until he throws a first pitch strike.
Heck, he's probably scheduled a side session today.