Pioneer City Police Chief throws out ceremonial first pitch at Russell Park
As hundreds of fans looked on, Brian Bognatz strode to the mound, toed the rubber and stared in at home plate.
Peering back out at him from behind his mask, catcher Ryker Rossetti put down the signs and then gave his pitcher a target.
Bognatz took a deep breath, went into his wind-up and delivered...
“I think it was a pretty good pitch,” Brian said with a smile. “Maybe a little bit low, but not bad especially considering that I was pretty nervous out there.”
While the pitch may have been called a ball had this been an actual game situation, you'd never have known it from the reaction of the fans.
After all, it was Opening Day of the 2017 Carbondale Area Little League season and officials had asked their young Chief of Police to throw out that all-important ceremonial first pitch.
Hundreds had gathered at Russell Park to witness the event, and they all cheered enthusiastically for Chief Bognatz on the hill.
“I'm really honored that they asked me,” he said. “I had so much fun doing it. I mean, I definitely had some butterflies out there because it felt like there were 1,000 people watching me.”
Chief Bognatz's presence at Russell Park was well-received by players, parents and coaches alike.
After all, it was less than four months ago that the clubhouse was broken into and more than $1,500 of damages incurred.
Thankfully, the thief left empty-handed and all the havoc he caused was eventually repaired. Now, with the memory of that incident fading, fans could sit back and enjoy watching their Chief in action.
Brian Bognatz was born and raised in Carbondale. He graduated from high school in 1990 and has dedicated his adult life to making the city safe for its residents.
His career as a member of the Carbondale Police Force began in July of 1996 when he was sworn in as a part-time officer. He rose steadily through the ranks, though, becoming a full-time patrolman just four months later.
By 1999, Bognatz had risen to the rank of Sergeant and, in late August 2016, he was elevated to the position he now holds.
“Having worked so much with Brian, I know that this city is in good hands,” said Lackawanna County DA Shane Scanlon on the night Bognatz was sworn in.
“I know that you have a caring and compassionate police chief. He takes great pride in everything he does.”
Chief Bognatz didn't play organized ball on the Russell Park diamond as a kid growing up in the Pioneer City.
However, he's a lifelong advocate of our National Pastime; a full-fledged supporter of youth sports in general and little league baseball in particular.”
“I'm a big believer in youth baseball,” he said.
“I think that Carbondale Area Little League plays an integral role in our community. It's the kind of program that helps kids become young adults.
“They learn things like the value of teamwork and sportsmanship. It shows kids all the good that can come from putting in the effort and it teaches them about leadership, too.”
Chief Bognatz himself has also learned lessons from the game … after all, he's a New York Mets fan!
“They're my favorite team,” he admitted with a dramatic sigh. “Being a Mets fan is a long and frustrating existence.”
Despite enduring so many disappointing years, the Chief does have some happy memories … like the 2000 Subway Series and making a trip to old Shea Stadium to watch his Mets take on the Yankees.
“Mike Piazza was my favorite player,” he said. “I loved watching him hit.”
Now that the ceremonies are all over, it's time for Carbondale Area Little Leaguers to be about the business of the 2017 season.
Baseball games will be played all summer long at Russell Park and softball contests at the West Side Complex in Simpson.
League officials estimate that more than 400 boys and girls will participate at some level this season.
Chief Bognatz and his officers will be watching from the sidelines, making sure those kids have a safe place to pursue their big league diamond dreams.
In the meantime, the Chief will bask in memory of his “first pitch” and quietly prepare for the next time he's called in from the bullpen...
“I'd love to come back and do it again,” he said with a laugh. “But, next time, I'll definitely put in a little practice before going out there in front of all those people.”