Musgrove brings ‘heat’ to the coldest place on Earth

How did you celebrate your 30th birthday? Probably not like Joe Musgrove did.

The Padres right-hander turned 30 on Dec. 4 in Antarctica during a trip that began as a fun idea during an off-day fishing trip but morphed into much more than that.

Musgrove is now poised to become a world record holder, owner of the fastest pitch — an 86 mph fastball he threw on Dec. 2 — on the world’s coldest continent. More important, in doing so, he raised money and awareness for the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), a cause near and dear to his heart.

“This trip exceeded every expectation I had, man,” Musgrove said via voice message on Monday. “There’s so many moments throughout this trip that I’ll never forget, and the group of people that we came with couldn’t have been a better collection of people. I’m just very, very grateful that I was given the opportunity to come on this trip and to try to make a little bit of an impact.”

It was a trip months upon months in the making. Musgrove and polar exploration guide Neill Drake spent five months simply applying for permits to throw a pitch on Antarctica — a process to ensure that nothing they did would damage the environment or local wildlife. (Musgrove was required to submit numerous bits of information, including his average release point and his career stats.)

In September, Musgrove held a fundraiser that raised nearly $100,000 for CAF, which provides opportunity and support to people with physical challenges so they can pursue active lifestyles. He invited any fans and interested parties to join him on the trip, with all the proceeds going to CAF.

Ultimately, enough money was raised for Musgrove to invite Landis Sims, a 16-year-old who was born without arms and lower legs. Sims, who has developed a close friendship with Musgrove through CAF, grew up playing baseball, even competing against children without physical challenges. Musgrove also invited two Paralympic athletes — Roderick Sewell, a double above-knee amputee who became the first to finish the Ironman world championship, and Justin Phongsavanh, who was paralyzed after he was shot in an unprovoked assault.

“The whole idea of this trip was to face these limits and face things that are going to hold these athletes back due to the physical condition they’re in,” Musgrove said. “Watching these guys take every one of these challenges on, head-on … They found a way to get through it. We accomplished everything that we were trying to go for.”

The plan came to fruition last week. Musgrove and Co. took off from Ushuaia in southern Argentina onboard the Ocean Victory, which Drake noted is the most environmentally friendly ship in the polar fleet.

“Getting on the boat, all the excitement started setting in that all this work for the last year and however many months was finally coming down to this moment, and it was real, the boat was pulling away from the dock, and we were heading out,” Musgrove said.

Musgrove initially planned to set the record on Dec. 1, but the pitch was delayed by a day because of unfavorable conditions. A day later the weather broke in their favor. On flat ground near the Almirante Brown research base, Drake found the ideal location. They dug out snow and made a makeshift mound out of gravel from the Antarctic shores.

Musgrove warmed up on the ship before throwing five pitches to left-hander Sean Manaea, Musgrove’s teammate with the Padres last season, now a free agent.

“My main concern was not getting hurt,” Musgrove said. “And my worst fear was throwing one off target and having it roll into the water or get buried in the snow where we can’t recover it. But everything went pretty smooth.”

Musgrove’s first offering was 79 mph. He slowly worked his way up to 86, and that was that. Having set a goal of 80 mph, Musgrove was more than pleased with his effort.

“I think my expectations for how hard the pitch was going to be were pretty low,” he said. “But by the time it was time to throw the pitch, I felt pretty good. It felt somewhat like a game, having a crowd of people behind you watching you and wanting to put up a number that’s impressive enough without hurting myself. By the time we got down to throwing the baseball, I felt pretty good, I felt warm.”

When Musgrove finished, Sims got his turn, hitting 43 mph while throwing to Musgrove. Musgrove wondered aloud whether Sims had 44 mph in him, so Sims threw one more pitch — and hit 44.

Musgrove’s record is still pending approval after being submitted to the Guinness World Records Book. Most important for the expedition, however, Musgrove’s accomplishment featured no transitory impact on the environment.

Shortly thereafter, the group was back onboard the Ocean Victory, touring and hiking the continent.

“It’s really hard to explain unless you’re in that place, experiencing it in person,” Musgrove said. “For there being such a lack of color, there was so much beauty in just the simple white and blue from the snow, the ice and the water. And bringing along the CAF athletes with us, it made the trip even more special.”

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