Hekker received an invitation to throw out the first pitch at a recent Cardinals game at Busch Stadium, along with taking over the team’s Twitter account for a few hours, and the punter was careful to avoid the embarrassment that’s come for the rapper, whose off-target toss at a Mets game earlier this summer will live on in infamy on the internet.
“That's probably been one of the more nerve-wracking moments in sports I've had,” Hekker told reporters following Monday’s special teams practice session. “I never grew up playing organized baseball, so I get up there on the bump and my nerves started getting going during the windup and I thought I was going to throw up, but I didn't. I zinged the ball in there, it was a little bit outside, but it was a strike.”
Once Cardinals outfielder Peter Bourjos
caught the pitch, Hekker could exhale. The 24 year old from Oregon State
would be headed to his third training camp with the Rams soon enough and he’d get back to work.
That happened last Friday as the Rams veterans returned.
On Monday, the team’s first practice in pads was a special teams session at Rams Park that focused on covering and blocking for punts and kickoffs. The punter was happy to be back.
“Oh yeah, it's what you wait for all season,” Hekker said. “There's nothing in the world like football season. I love to watch my teammates do their thing so a lot of these practices it's kind of a watching game and observing game. It's a ton of fun.”
“I'm enjoying the heck out of this team,” Hekker added.
He had to enjoy his second season, in 2013, when he and the St. Louis punt coverage team recorded a NFL record net average of 44.2 yards per punt. That accomplishment helped earn Hekker a trip to Hawaii as one of the Rams’ two Pro Bowlers, along with defensive end Robert Quinn
But repeating that kind of success this season could be near impossible for No. 6, so he’s focused on the things he can control instead.
“I think the best thing I can do for myself and my teammates is to just put that behind me,” Hekker said. “That has no bearing on what I'm going to do this season. In order to have a special season like last year I'm going to need to have even better work ethic, better game plan, better mental approach. … I think I can be a better punter, definitely. I would love to beat my record, but I'm not going on the record saying I'm going to do that.”
At the same time, though, Hekker is going to do everything he can to help keep the Rams’ punt team as one of the best in the NFL again this season.
“I have some amazing teammates who work their butts off, and I have the best special teams coach in the NFL without a doubt,” Hekker said, talking about Rams special teams coordinator John Fassel. “He's getting us ready to go out and dominate. He said it best today, we don't want to be the best we can be, we just want to be the best. That's our mind-set.”
You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @NateLatsch or email him at email@example.com
ST. LOUIS — Johnny Hekker saw what happened during 50 Cent’s first pitch. That was the last thing the Rams’ Pro Bowl punter wanted to do.