Obama at Washington Nationals game: a history of first pitches

Obama has been practicing for his ceremonial first pitch at the Washington Nationals game Monday. This year marks the 100th anniversary of presidential first pitches.

Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP/File
In this July 14, 2009 file photo, President Barack Obama throws out the first pitch before the All-Star baseball game in St. Louis. President Obama on Monday will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Washington Nationals baseball season opener.

President Obama will attempt something Monday that in its own way may be just as difficult as enacting healthcare reform: throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at the Washington Nationals baseball season opener.

Sure, that last healthcare vote in the House was a squeaker. But standing on a major-league mound, looking in at a catcher? Trust us, home plate looks like it’s a million miles away.

Bounced first pitches are legion. So are wild throws. FDR once shattered a photographer’s camera with a first-pitch attempt – and he had the advantage of just tossing it in from the stands.

IN PICTURES: Presidential first pitches

So it’s a good thing that Mr. Obama has been practicing. He’s been pitching to personal assistant Reggie Love, among others, according to spokesman Robert Gibbs.

“Just like all the pitchers around the majors, the southpaw president has engaged in a little spring training in the Rose Garden to get his curveball in opening-day order,” Mr. Gibbs said.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of presidential first pitches. Baseball fan William Howard Taft inaugurated the practice in 1910, throwing out the ball at the Washington Senators home opener.

Presidents prior to Mr. Taft had liked baseball, too. But most had thought that actually tossing a ball looked, well, unpresidential.

Taft saw it as good politics.

“The game of baseball is a clean, straight game, and it summons to its presence everybody who enjoys clean, straight athletics,” he said.

This was before the steroid era, obviously.

Here are a few notable White House first-pitch facts:

First left-hander

Harry Truman was the first southpaw president to open a game, throwing out the first pitch of the Senator’s season in 1946.

To confuse matters, Mr. Truman in 1950 became the first president to throw out two first pitches – one with his left hand, and one with his right. He must have been in a bipartisan mood.

Biggest fan

President Nixon was perhaps the most intense follower of all sports, including baseball, in the modern White House. He was pretty intense about almost everything, of course, but that’s another story.

In 1972, he drew up a number of all-star teams that drew wide media attention and reflected a fairly deep knowledge of the game. He selected the best players from 1925 to 1945, and from 1945 to 1970, as well as the best players of 1972.

Best player

This is a relatively easy one: George Herbert Walker Bush. He was captain of Yale’s baseball team, which played in the 1947 College World Series. (They lost.)

Mr. Bush was a smooth-fielding, contact-hitting first baseman. That kind of player, like moderate Republicans, is out of fashion. Today, first base is where you stick the slugger who fields poorly.

Bush was also the first president to throw out a first pitch in a foreign country – in Toronto, Canada, in 1990.

Baseball briefing: What's new this year

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