Who is Tom Willis, the no-arm fan invited to throw the first pitch in the Yankees vs. Blue Jays game?

No-arm baseball fan Tom Willis
Michael Bennington
Tuesday September 19, 2023

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No-arm baseball fan Tom Willis is inching toward making MLB history and his ceremonial pitch at Yankee Stadium will be remembered as a remarkable accomplishment.

Born in 1959 without arms, Tom Willis will deliver the first pitch on Tuesday before the Yankees and Blue Jays game using his feet. This is going to mark his 29th pitch at a Major League Baseball stadium, bringing him one step closer to achieving his goal of pitching at all 30 big league ballparks.

Who is Tom Willis

Tom Willis works as a motivational speaker. He was born without arms, but he hasn’t let that stop him from living a remarkable life. Instead of arms and hands, he relies on his legs and feet for almost everything, from writing and dressing to cooking and even driving a specially equipped automobile with foot steering controls. Every day, Tom Willis faces and conquers numerous challenges.

His journey began in his early childhood, marked by illness, surgeries, body casts, braces, traction, and prosthetics. Despite these early struggles, Tom Willis went on to achieve extraordinary academic success, earning both his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees.

For over two decades, Tom Willis has worked as a video producer and communications specialist with the Federal government in Washington, DC. In this role, he has collaborated with Congress, the Cabinet, and even the White House. Additionally, he spent nearly a decade in television production, working with renowned musicians, Broadway celebrities, and Hollywood stars.

Born in Washington, DC, Tom Willis grew up in the suburbs of Takoma Park, Maryland. He graduated with honors from Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, DC, where he ranked 2nd in a class of 200 students and received the Silver Medal for General Excellence.

Tom Willis continued his academic journey at the University of Maryland, graduating Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Radio, Television, and Film production.

His professional career kicked off at Arbitron Ratings in Laurel, MD, where he spent nine years as a field interviewing manager and survey coordinator (1981-1989). Tom Willis later joined the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, DC, where he worked for 11 years as a video and satellite television producer, public affairs officer, and distance learning specialist (1989-2000).

Tom Willis’ dedication to television production extended to his work on television production crews for the annual “National Memorial Day Concert” and “A Capitol Fourth,” both nationally broadcast on PBS (1997-2003).

In 1999, he received a Telly Award as the executive producer for “Partners Video Magazine.” Tom Willis continued to garner recognition with accolades such as the Aegis Award of Excellence and the Aurora Awards – Platinum – Best of Show as the executive producer for “Partners Video Magazine” in 2000.

In 2002, Tom Willis launched Tomsfeet Productions, venturing into a career as a motivational speaker and an independent TV and video producer. He even worked on the television production crew for CBS’s Latin Grammy Awards at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, CA. His commitment to helping others was evident in 2005 when he served as the communication director for the Hurricane Katrina Relief Center in Scripps Ranch, CA.

In 2008, Tom Willis had the honor of throwing out the Ceremonial First Pitch before a San Diego Padres game at Petco Park in San Diego, CA.

Tom Willis’ baseball dream

The 64-year-old, now residing in San Diego, has had a lifelong passion for baseball, particularly his cherished Washington Senators (now the Texas Rangers), and he once aspired to play professionally.

According to Tom Willis, as a child, he had the same dream as every little boy who picks up a baseball – to someday play on a professional team in a professional stadium. However, due to his disability, that dream became impossible to achieve. Nonetheless, he considered the opportunity to throw out the first pitch as the next best thing.

During a flight to New York before his important pitch, Tom Willis, who rarely experiences nervousness, confessed to The Post that the significance of the iconic Yankee Stadium was creating some pressure for him.

He mentioned that Yankee Stadium was the ultimate baseball venue for him. Tom Willis had pitched at Fenway and Wrigley, but he considered Yankee Stadium to be at the top of the heap, describing it as the mecca for a true baseball fan.

Fifteen years ago, Tom Willis embarked on his journey after giving a speech at a local school and playfully demonstrating his signature move of kicking a tennis ball into the audience. When a local TV station captured his impressive “wicked curveball,” he was invited to repeat the feat, this time with a baseball, at a San Diego Padres game just a week later.

With the assistance of a little league coach friend, Tom Willis developed a method for pitching using his feet. His initial aim was simply to throw from the professional pitcher’s mound, even if the ball bounced along the way, which it did.

The concept gained momentum, and now Tom Willis’s “Pitch for Awareness” tour serves as a testament to baseball fans and doubters alike, demonstrating that anything can be achieved.

Tom Willis emphasized that the most important thing is that people understand his message: that having a disability doesn’t limit one’s potential, and he has a knack for turning obstacles into opportunities and challenges into championships.

Regarding the prospect of pitching at Yankee Stadium, Tom Willis, who stands at 5 feet tall, expressed his desire to capture the attention of Yankee captain Aaron Judge. He remarked, “He’s like 18 feet tall. It would be great to get a picture of us side-by-side.”

Tom-Willis
Matthew McDermott

He mentioned that he preserves each baseball, occasionally autographed by the pitcher, and often takes home a team baseball cap. Tom Willis also stated that he takes a little bit of dirt and keeps it in a bag from every field, which he finds pretty cool.

Tom Willis’ life is a testament to determination, resilience, and the power of the human spirit, inspiring countless others to overcome adversity and achieve their dreams. His motto: “No hands, no arms, no problem.”

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