Well, it certainly has been cold. I’m not afraid to declare that January is my least favorite month out of the whole year. All of you snow lovers have gotten your taste of the white stuff, so bring on the heat! The good news is that Spring Training is less than a month away. That is a sure sign of warm weather being right around the corner! This month, I will look at one of baseball’s time-honored traditions, the presidential first pitch.
In every MLB game that I have attended, there has been someone designated to throw the first pitch. Former players, other sporting figures, actors, and actresses, have all been tapped to make the toss. Some of the pitches have been comically bad. The rapper 50 Cent comes to mind. He had everyone fooled with a decent windup and form until the ball sailed almost directly left. Presidential first pitches are traditionally on the Opening Day of the baseball season or during the World Series. The first presidential toss was made by William Howard Taft in 1912.
All the presidents up until Ronald Reagan sat in the front row and made the pitch from the stands. There is less chance of being embarrassed for an errant throw and a less visible target for a would-be assassin. Reagan decided to throw from the mound on Opening Day in 1984 and then visited the broadcast booth and helped with the color commentary for a few innings. Harry Truman was the only left-handed President to make the pitch until Barack Obama in 2008. Yours truly was on hand at Nationals Park for Opening Day in 2008 to witness this continuation of the tradition. The first thing I noticed was many heavily armed men ringing the top of the stadium and the office buildings across the street.
Obama appeared from the dugout to a mixture of cheers and boos, normal for any politician then and now. He was wearing a Nationals jacket. After greeting the color guard with a salute for each, he made his way to the mound. Obama then reached into his coat pocket and produced a White Sox cap, placing it on his head. The first pitch was a lollypop nowhere near the plate. For this, he got booed by me, not for political reasons, but for such a poor effort! The presidential first pitch is no joke. Obama should have practiced this with the importance of a big speech or an address to the nation. I know, some of you don’t agree with this assessment. Let me tell you the story of the most famous and dare I say important presidential first pitch of all, the 2001 World Series in New York.
Most people who are 54 like me remember 9/11 as the defining moment of infamy in our lives. In my opinion, this country has never been the same since. I remember coming to work that day and hearing on the radio that an aircraft had crashed into the World Trade Center. To be truthful, a terrorist attack never crossed my mind. Arriving at work, I told my boss to turn on the TV in his office since this was an odd thing to happen. Several of us were watching, when on live TV, the second plane crashed into the other tower. Immediately, we all knew this wasn’t a coincidence.
We just stood there, staring at the screen trying to comprehend what was going on. Work pretty much stopped for the day. Several of our employees were so distraught that they went home. I stumbled through the rest of the day in a daze, unable to function properly. After the collapse of the Twin Towers, President Bush famously got on a bullhorn to address the firemen and policemen digging through the rubble for their friends and other people’s family members. In a show of strength, he reassured everyone on hand that the people who did this would hear from the United States very soon. MLB was playing games less than a week after the attacks and by coincidence, the New York Yankees advanced to the World Series. Just 49 days after the attacks, President Bush was slated to throw out the first pitch of the World Series not very far from the still smoldering ruins of the Twin Towers.
President Bush took this assignment very seriously. Beneath the dugout, he insisted on taking some warmup tosses to help him get used to the heavy, bulletproof vest that he was wearing as a precaution. He donned an FDNY jacket over the protective vest and strode defiantly toward the mound, The entire crowd started chanting USA, USA. Bush stopped in his tracks to acknowledge the fans. Derek Jeter, the Yankee shortstop told the President “Don’t bounce it, or they will boo you.” Bush threw a perfect strike. The crowd went nuts. Even warmed my cold, black, Yankee-hating heart a little bit.
The company that I worked for allowed me to play a very small part in helping support our troops in the War on Terror. In that role, I had to visit active war zones on four different occasions and was able to see the sacrifice that our troops made in defending us. One of the best memories was being able to celebrate Easter and worship that Sunday with our active military while deployed. Something I will always remember. I will leave you this month with a quote from President Herbert Hoover. “Next to religion, baseball has produced a greater impact on American life than any other institution” He was also serenaded with chants of “We want Beer” by Prohibition-era Phillies fans.