Once wasn’t enough for Jeff Maulhardt.

As he prepared to throw out the first pitch at the Los Angeles Dodgers’ July 1 baseball game, the Oxnard schoolteacher and local historian knew he would be fulfilling a childhood dream.

“My thought was, ‘When will I ever get the chance to be here again?’ ” Maulhardt says of the chance to help celebrate Ventura County Day at Dodgers Stadium.

Little did he know that he would return just two days later as part of a celebration marking the date the storied Dodgers franchise sold its 175 millionth ticket.

“I was glad to have the opportunity to throw out more than just one pitch after all the practice,” Maulhardt says.

Since President William Howard Taft threw out the first pitch on opening day of the Washington Senators’ 1910 season, the first pitch has often been a lazy toss that barely reaches the batters’ box, let alone the catcher’s mitt. Knowing that he would have one chance to impress 50,000 fans — including 1,500 who drove down from Ventura County for the event — Maulhardt practiced for six weeks with his daughters and former Port Hueneme High School and California Lutheran University catcher Joel Gaxiola.

“People are so pumped out about it,” Maulhardt said July 1 before taking the field for his first pitch duties. “That makes it a lot more fun. For six weeks, it was all about ‘guess who’s pitching for the Dodgers.’ Now the day has come.”

Maulhardt had planned “the day” for months as a way to promote his new book, Baseball in Ventura County: Images of Baseball, which was released May 7 (see “Strawberries and Cracker Jacks” on page 20 of the May 10 issue of the VC Reporter).

Ventura County Day quickly became a way for the Dodgers to celebrate the contributions the county has made to Major League Baseball. The team agreed to buy 160 copies of Maulhardt’s book to sell in its gift shops, and helped arrange for Maulhardt to sign autographs at Dodger Stadium during the game. Maulhardt, in turn, arranged for more than 1,500 fans from around the county to buy tickets to the game. He also contacted more than 20 former ballplayers with ties to the county in hopes they would join him for pre-game festivities (many more players from the county who are still living are featured in Maulhardt’s book but could not join the festivities because they are still involved as players or coaches with other teams).

 

The boys in blue

 

By the time Maulhardt arrived at the stadium with Bob Glatt, a Moorpark financial adviser, amateur photographer and fellow Dodgers fan, the pair were as excited as they might have been as boys at their first professional baseball game. Hours before the Dodgers and the San Diego Padres were to take the field to continue what is quickly becoming a bitter rivalry, Maulhardt started to put his own game face on.

“I want to throw a strike,” he said as an usher led him and Glatt to the field. “Everybody I talked to said, ‘Throw a strike.’ At one point I said to myself, ‘You know, it’s my pitch, I’ll throw it in the dirt if I want,’ but I’m not going to.”

Before Maulhardt took the mound, however, he was joined by former big-leaguers Jerry Willard, Jeff Tackett and Brent Cookson, who were all featured in Maulhardt’s book, but that was only after a wide-eyed Glatt noticed former Dodgers and Padres All Star first baseman tk leaving a Dodgers office.

With Tackett, Cookson and Willard swapping stories about minor league adventures and major league memories, the group took the field to prepare in what was quickly becoming a sweltering day. As Maulhardt warmed up with a Dodgers’ usher and Glatt giddily marveled at the experience of being on the field, the players shot the breeze with Bill Mueller, a former Dodger and Boston Red Sox third baseman and the Dodgers’ new pitching coach.

“The most enjoyable moment for me was being on the field and warming up,” Maulhardt said a week after his performance.

Maulhardt threw a knuckler high and inside to Mike Lieberthal, a graduate of Westlake High School and the Dodgers’ backup catcher.

The pitch might have been a ball, but Maulhardt thinks it “worked to keep the Padres off the plate.” The Dodgers, who at the time of this writing just barely trail San Diego in their division, followed Maulhardt’s performance with a 5-0 shutout of the Padres.

“I think I did set the table for the team,” Maulhardt says.

 

The right place at the right time

 

Maulhardt may be good luck for the Dodgers — and himself. Two days after Ventura County Day, he joined his cousins for another trip to Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers were playing the Atlanta Braves, and the cousins hoped to get a chance to see Terry Pendleton, an Oxnard native who once starred on the St. Louis Cardinals and the Braves, where he is now a batting coach.

That day, the Dodgers — who, as a franchise, have the highest cumulative attendance in baseball — celebrated reaching the milestone of 175 million tickets sold with a number of promotions. When Maulhardt’s companions headed toward the field level to catch up with Pendleton, the author was delayed at the stadium entrance.

When they finally let him through he was surrounded by stadium representatives who told him he was the 175 millionth fan and, therefore, was invited to throw out the first pitch. Given a commemorative jersey, hat and ball, Maulhardt returned to the field, where he had a chance to meet Pendleton, get his book signed, and also meet Lou Johnson, a former Dodger who played right field at the first game Maulhardt ever saw live.

This time, Maulhardt hurled a strike right down the center, and the Dodgers followed up by beating the Braves 7-6.

 

A Bright Day at the Ballpark

 

Although Maulhardt is a lifelong Dodgers fan, he was dealt some disappointment by the Padres just before Ventura County Day. One of the reasons Maulhardt selected July 1 for the Ventura County Day celebration was the fact that Oxnard High graduate Paul McAnulty was a Padres outfielder. But McAnulty, whose family owns Oxnard’s Who’s on First batting cages, was sent down to the minor league before the game.

“He does a lot of fundraising for Oxnard College still,” Maulhardt says. “I’ve met him a couple times. He’s a really nice guy.”

But McAnulty’s absence was only a minor shadow on what otherwise appeared to be a bright day for Ventura County baseball fans.

Nearly 1,500 showed up at Chavez Ravine to sit in the stadium’s right field reserve with others from the county. Many more were scattered throughout the stadium.

Albert and Marybelle Magdaleno and their children, Albert Jr., Anthony and Angelique, were among those fans who came to get a copy of Maulhardt’s book autographed during the third inning and only a day after they came to another game to celebrate Marybelle’s birthday.

“It’s good,” Albert said of the book the family bought the previous week.

Both Albert Jr. and Anthony take baseball lessons from Tackett, who coaches in Camarillo. As Maulhardt signed nearly 80 copies with Cookson and Willard, Tackett joined in as he was recognized by many of his current and former players.

“We’re here because our kids play baseball, and we’re big baseball fanatics,” Marybelle said.

Maulhardt was able to bring fans from the county with the support of a number of area organizations, businesses, and individuals. Five hundred tickets were bought by the Camarillo Pony League. Steve Thomas, of Steve Thomas BMW in Camarillo, bought 50, Maulhardt says, then called back with another 100 bought by Tom Mattivi of Security Paving and Tom Olson, of Mrs. Olson’s Coffee Hut in Hollywood Beach. Others who bought 25, 50 or 100 tickets included: the Robert J. Frank Intermediate School for students in its AVID program; Claudia Saucido, a teacher at the school; Mory Navarro for kids at Oxnard’s Police Activities League gym; Sam’s Saloon Sports Bar, which is owned by Maulhardt’s brother; the Knights of Columbus; AA Concrete; Billy Chivo Records; Leo Bunnin of Bunnin Buick-Pontiac-GMC-Cadillac; and Matt Hixon of U.S. Financial.