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White Sox employee gives worst first pitch in history, took out photographer who surprisingly got the shot

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Even Mary Ruich wasn’t sure what she was doing Tuesday when she threw out the ceremonial first pitch seen ’round the world — the one that turned into a brushback pitch for White Sox photographer Darren Georgia.

“It looks like a knuckleball, but I actually thought I was right over that home plate,” said Ruich, who has worked as a server at Guaranteed Rate Field’s Huntington Bank Stadium Club bar since 2001. “I thought it was good.

“I felt good, I felt great. I don’t know what happened, but something went wrong.”

The ball came out of her hand at a weird angle and made a beeline for Georgia’s camera lens, hitting it on the side as he tried to turn away.

“It almost, like, stuck in my hand,” she said. “It wouldn’t come out of my hand.”

Ruich said she had a clue that things went awry “when he started stumbling.”

“When I saw the camera get bobbled,” she said, “I was like, ‘Oh, my God! Maybe nobody saw that. I’ll just run away.’ ”

There was no running from the media spotlight. The pitch went viral and became national news. Ruich and Georgia, a photography intern for the Sox, addressed a throng of reporters and cameras before the Sox game Wednesday against the Royals.

“I had a lot of people ask if I was OK and, more importantly, was the camera OK,” said Georgia, who said he harbors no hard feelings toward Ruich. “My initial reaction to the whole thing was, ‘Is the camera OK?’ and ‘OK, we’ve got to do the group shot.’ It’s been a whirlwind of a 12 to 24 hours.”

Sox pitcher Evan Marshall was positioned to catch Ruich’s pitch — if it had made it anywhere near the plate. In his book, it immediately goes down among the worst ceremonial pitches.

“Yeah, everybody knows what 50 Cent did, and that’s going through my head, like, ‘We just topped that,’ ” Marshall said. “The video was on ‘Good Morning America’ this morning, so, yeah, it’s everywhere.

“I mean, it’s awesome. It’s funny that it happened. I wish (Georgia) had been taking pictures the whole time it was coming at him.”

For the record, Georgia said he didn’t have his camera set to fast shutter, something he wouldn’t normally do for a first pitch, so he captured Ruich’s throw only at the release point.

Georgia also pointed out that the first-pitch honor was a surprise to Ruich, a reward for winning employee of the month. “So she had no time to warm up or anything,” he said.

Georgia had a sense of humor about it all, and Ruich presented him with a cake made to look like a baseball with scuff marks on it as well as other gifts.

Someone who didn’t see the humor right away was Ruich’s daughter, Nikki, who lives with her mother in Alsip.

“She was out there and waving — she loves the attention — that’s why I was like, ‘You’re such a dork,’ ” joked Nikki Ruich, a 23-year-old flight attendant. “Right after I said it is when she threw it, and it hit the guy. I immediately stopped recording and was, like, ducking. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh.’

“I was standing next to her (on the field) and I was like, I don’t even want people to know that I’m with her at this point. I was so, so embarrassed. … But immediately when we walked into the tunnels, people were like, ‘Great pitch! Great pitch!’ and I was like, ‘Oh, this is kind of funny.’ Everyone was cheering at it.”

Mary Ruich said she would be game for throwing out the first pitch again if she’s ever asked — but probably after some pitching lessons.

Sox manager Rick Renteria offered pitching coach Don Cooper’s services.

“Coop can fix anybody,” Renteria said.

plthompson@chicagotribune.com

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