Secret Service has new threat to guard against: foul balls

President Bush plans to hold T-ball games for kids and families on the South Lawn.

After 30 years without a professional baseball team, Washington is about to reverberate once again with the sound of bat meeting ball.

Courtesy of former Texas Rangers co-owner George W. Bush, baseball's back in town, though it's not exactly the major leagues - yet. Instead of the Washington Senators returning to RFK Stadium, expect to see about 30 kids charging around bases on the White House South Lawn, as the president brings T-ball to the people's house.

Baseball is the president's passion, and has served as a kind of spring training for his political career. A Willie Mays fan as a boy, he organized pickup games during recess and played in an all-stars Little League in Midland, Texas - his favorite childhood memory.

Later, in prep school, he organized stickball, becoming its irreverent "commissioner." He followed his dad with a brief stint on the baseball team at Yale University, but still jokes that he "peaked" in Little League.

But it was becoming Texas Rangers co-owner in 1989 that tested Mr. Bush's skills as an executive. He convinced taxpayers to underwrite a new ballpark, worked on building up the team on the field, fraternized with fans in the stands - and turned a $600,000 investment into a $15 million profit.

Bush loves the orderliness, accountability, and competition that go with the game.

"The bottom line in baseball is results: wins and losses," the president wrote in his autobiography. "From baseball, I developed a thick skin against criticism. I learned to overlook minor setbacks and focus on the long haul."

So when Bush took up residence on Pennsylvania Avenue, he couldn't resist that big expanse of lawn spread out below the Truman balcony.

"After we moved in, I pointed out to a great baseball fan - the first lady - that we've got a pretty good-sized backyard here," the president joked at a White House gathering of baseball Hall-of-Famers last Friday. Surrounded by heroes like Hank Aaron and Yogi Berra (who, Bush said, might be mistaken for his speechwriter), the president extolled the virtues of the sport, saying it was about much more than stats or money.

"As much as anything else, baseball is the style of a Willie Mays, and the determination of a Hank Aaron, or the endurance of a Mickey Mantle," he said.

Now, as White House commissioner of T-ball, Bush gets to build his own field of dreams. Beginning in April or May, and lasting for the "next four seasons," as he put it, local kids will be swinging in exactly the spot where Marine One, the presidential helicopter, sometimes lands.

The White House will place bases on the lawn, bring out bleachers normally used for official events, and recruit cabinet secretaries and White House staff as coaches. Instead of throwing out the first pitch, the president will place the first ball on the T.

T-ball is a game for five- to eight-year-olds in which there are no pitchers and no strikeouts. Instead, kids swing away at a ball placed on a plastic stand.

The White House games will take place about once a month, involve some 30 boys and girls and their families, and draw from the region's Little League. The program will make an effort to reach disadvantaged kids, said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

The president described the plan as just a "small way" of preserving the best of baseball. Of course, many Washingtonians wouldn't mind if he could use his clout in a bigger way - to bring in a major-league franchise. After all, when the Washington Senators left town in 1971, they went to, of all places, Texas - becoming the Texas Rangers.

According to Mr. Fleischer, the president has already spoken to Washington Mayor Anthony Williams about the revival of a major-league team here. "The president would welcome that, if that was possible," he said.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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