Derrick Brooks stood in front of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos dugout, clutching a baseball while trying to calm nerves.
A first pitch awaited. From a guy known for hits in a different realm as one of the greatest linebackers in football history.
"I never stop getting nervous," said Brooks, laughing, attired in a Blue Wahoos home jersey and bursting with hometown pride in his return visit Thursday, now as a team co-owner.
He attained a goal. A solid pitch. No bounce. And it brought cheers from the crowd at Blue Wahoos Stadium, prior to the game against the Tennessee Smokies.
"It's great now that (first pitch) is over," he said, smiling. "No… it was fun to go out there and just get it across the plate. A little high but it didn't hit the dirt. I did not want to have it hit the dirt."
Since becoming an investor a year ago, the 46-year-old Brooks has hit the ground running to stay aware of team performance and the business operations. He's understood both in building a business career that followed his decorated NFL career, which was crystalized by induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014.
The Pensacola native rose from Booker T. Washington High as the USA Today National Prep Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in 1990, to being a two-time All-American linebacker at Florida State, while helping lead the Seminoles to their first national title in 1993, then becoming a Super Bowl winner in 2002 with the Tampa Bay Bucs.
Now, he's part of a different team, one that has reshaped Pensacola as one of the most successful minor league franchises in professional baseball. He's shared the vision of team majority owners Quint and Rishy Studer and their quest to enhance the community.
"Making Pensacola one of the best places to live and be here for generations to come," said Brooks, who maintains a home in Pensacola as well as his main residence in Tampa. "That was part of the selling point for me and one of the reasons why I decided to come on board and be a part of this."
Thursday was a big day. He played golf earlier in the day with four local residents who won a bid auction for a round at Pensacola Country Club with the football legend. The bid occurred at the Light Up Learning Night a year ago as part of the Early Brain Development program connected with Studer Community Institute.
Brooks has developed into very good golfer, averaging scores in the high-70's, mid-80's. He's been able to share golf experiences with PGA Tour star Bubba Watson, who is also a co-investor with the Blue Wahoos.
He then followed golf by traveling to Blue Wahoos Stadium to meet with team season-ticket holders in the stadium's Better Homes & Garden lounge about 45 minutes before the game. He also did a second-inning cameo on the radio broadcast with announcer Chris Garagiola.
"Anytime I have a chance to come back here and see our team play and just seeing the wonderful fans and season ticket holders, it's fun to be around," Brooks said.
He addressed the season-ticket holders by reminding of his competitive fire that fueled 14 NFL seasons and incredibly not missing a game in any of those years.
"We want to be winners. I don't know how to lose," Brooks said. "Everything I have done in life, I have been part of a team. Every accomplishment I had been part it has been with teammates. I don't accomplish what I have without teammates.
"We want to make this a memorable experience," said Brooks, speaking of the team's primary mission with ticket buyers. "We want to hear from you guys… good, bad or indifferent. Obviously, none of us can control what goes on the diamond. You guys bring the energy and support
"But we can control the experience. We want to create a winning environment from bottom up, to top down."
Meanwhile, Brooks has kept focus on his other favorite baseball team. Florida State enters the College World Series from an improbable path in NCAA regional wins at Georgia, then LSU, to create a fairytale-like scenario for beloved coach Mike Martin in his 40th and final season at FSU.
"I'm proud. For all of us Noles fans, we could not write a better ending to the long storybook of Coach Martin's life," Brooks said. "Forty years…that is unprecedented. Hopefully our guys can pull it off and send him off in that final chapter with a College World Series championship.
"They have been clutch in the playoffs, whether it has been hitting, whether it has been pitching, whether it has been defense, they have found ways to get it done."
Brooks leaves Friday for Montgomery, Ala, where his daughter is competing in a travel-ball softball tournament. Brooks and his wife, Carol, will be in the bleachers as proud parents.
On June 30, Brooks will be inducted into the National Federation of State High School Associations Hall of Fame. The ceremony at Indianapolis will complete a trifecta of hall of fame inductions at all three levels. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2016.
"As someone told me, that's the last hall of fame I can be in," said Brooks, smiling, who is one of only 30 linebackers in NFL history to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is one of only 13 Florida-born, NFL players in the Hall of Fame and the only one who played his entire football career in Florida.
"I said to them, 'That's still not the one I want to be in….I want to be in the Heavenly Hall of Fame," said Brooks, who is a devout Christian. "But to be recognized as one of the top two or three guys, who ever played (high school football) and now representing that in Indianapolis from my state of Florida…. that is an opportunity I take very humbly.
"I am excited about it. High school sports to me… that is my bread and butter… giving back to the kids in our area, so hopefully this is another platform for me to do that."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.