On the evening of Tuesday, May 27, Palo Alto resident Charlie Hughes had a dream come true: He stepped onto the field at AT&T Park before the San Francisco Giants game and threw the first pitch.
This is "the biggest and best thing that has ever happened to me," Hughes said.
The road to the mound for the 25 year old, who is developmentally disabled, began in May 2013 when he met iconic Giants first baseman Will "The Thrill" Clark at a benefit breakfast for Hope Services, a nonprofit that serves disabled individuals. After bonding with Hughes there, Clark asked if he could do anything for him.
Hughes's mother Kathleen said she remembers him telling Clark, "'I'd love to throw out the first pitch some time.'"
About a year later, Clark followed through and nailed down the opportunity for Hughes.
Kathleen Hughes -- who is the founder of Ada's Cafe, a nonprofit Palo Alto restaurant providing training and employment to people with disabilities -- said that Giants baseball has long been a part of her son's life. Because of his condition, Hughes learned how to read and do math slowly. However, his desire to absorb articles and statistics about the team served as a powerful motivator. He was particularly driven to learn about favorite players such as Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent and J.T. Snow.
Hughes also played baseball growing up and then as an adult in the Challenger league through Palo Alto Little League. In the last year, however, his jobs at Ada's Cafe and the Stanford University Bookstore have taken up much of his free time.
But when he got the call three weeks ago, Hughes started loosening up his mitt in practicing for the big-time pitch. He received help from neighbor Todd Laurence, who took him regularly to the regulation-size Babe Ruth ballpark at the Baylands Athletic Center, as well as Robert Burley, who coaches Hughes's sister in softball at Castilleja School.
On the day of the game, many friends, family and coworkers headed to AT&T park to root for Hughes, dubbing themselves "Charlie's cheerleaders." Kathleen guessed there were nearly 100 fans there, in addition to others watching from home, making the experience even more special for Hughes.
"It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy," she said. "And truly I think he's still walking on air after the experience."