Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert delivers first pitch before Mets vs. Orioles game
Baffert will saddle Justify, who drew the rail and will look to win Triple Crown Saturday at the 150th Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets
Bob Baffert said he felt the emotional butterflies as a cheering crowd applauded.
But the nerves weren't in anticipation of a big race. Four days before undefeated Justify will attempt to become just the 13th Triple Crown winner by capturing the 150th running of the Grade 1, $1.5 million Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets, Baffert delivered the ceremonial first pitch before the Mets played the Baltimore Orioles in an interleague matchup.
Justify, who be looking to join Seattle Slew in 1977 as the only unbeaten Triple Crown winners with a victory in the "Test of the Champion," drew the rail as the post positions were announced at Citi Field's Foxwoods Club almost an hour and a half before Baffert took the field.
Wearing a custom white home Mets jersey with his last name and number 3 in blue, Baffert stationed himself in front of the mound and delivered a high pitch caught by Mets infielder Luis Guillorme.
"I wanted to be sure, I've never thrown one short," Baffert said with a laugh. "I felt safer from that distance. I've never bounced it yet and I've never taken a warmup pitch. It's fun. I told people I won't be more nervous before that race than I was throwing that pitch."
Justify is the 4-5 morning-line favorite in the 10-horse Belmont Stakes. After winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, the son of Scat Daddy will arrive in New York tomorrow and ship to Belmont Park. Baffert, who saddled American Pharoah to the Triple Crown in 2015, will be looking to become just the second trainer to accomplish the feat twice, joining James "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons (Gallant Fox in 1930 and Omaha in 1935).
Baffert threw out a first pitch in a major league game for the first time since 2015 after American Pharoah's ride into history. In that game, Baffert, accompanied by his son, Bode, threw from the Dodger Stadium mound before a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"I remember I threw it high, I wanted to make sure it didn't hit the ground," said Baffert, who added he also threw out a first pitch before an Orioles game in Baltimore. "Once you get over 60, I think you get a pass. I just don't want to make a blooper reel."
Baffert, who is primarily based out of California, has won four Eclipse Awards as Outstanding Trainer and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2009. The 65-year-old has won 14 Triple Crown races and more than 2,800 career wins on his ledger but said moments like the Mets game are important for forging a work-life balance.
"We're actually starting to really enjoy Triple Crown chases because it's a lot of stress just getting to the Derby, and once you get past that, you turn around in two weeks for the Preakness, so you don't have time to really think about it,"
Baffert said. "Now that we've had three weeks, we've had time to let it sink in. This is my fifth time doing it and I know what to expect."
Before American Pharoah ended a 37-year Triple Crown threat, Baffert had won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness three times before falling short in the Belmont Stakes, seeing Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998) and War Emblem (2002) thwarted in the final leg.
"I enjoy it a little more now because before, I always viewed coming here [to the Belmont Stakes] as something that was missing in my career," Baffert said. "To be able to get it, it was pretty satisfying."