Presidents and Baseball are as American as the Fourth of July

Editor’s Note:In honor of President’s Day and the ties between presidents and baseball, we take a look back at a column from last year about the history of the Presidential first pitch.

Today is President’s Day, or Washington’s birthday as it is also known here in the United States of America.

While originally the holiday was thought of as a way to recognize the two presidents with birthdays in February, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, President’s Day has grown to include a time to honor all of the men, and most likely someday the women, who have served in the nation’s highest office.

Monday we celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday along with honoring every other person to occupy the Oval Office.
Photo R. Anderson

Through the years President’s Day has also become a time to buy furniture, appliances and cars at unheard of savings as many companies have sought to capitalize on the fact that many people have the day off of work.

While the founding fathers wanted us to enjoy various freedoms, I doubt they had no interest financing on washers and dryers in mind when they spoke of “self-evident truths.” Then again maybe they did.

So, for our purposes let us not focus on the retail aspects of the holiday. Instead let us try to focus on the office of the President and what that entails.

To date, 44 men have served as President of the United States. The 45th President of the United States will be elected next year.

I was fortunate enough to come face to face with two of the men who would go on to become president although I was only old enough to remember one of them

I have been told by my mother that my first encounter with a future President was during a rally for Jimmy Carter.

Of course, at the time of that rally I would have been perhaps just turning 1 so needless to say I do not recall meeting him but I am sure it was a lovely time for all.

As for the encounter with a Commander in Chief that I do recall, in 1992 I met Bill Clinton at a campaign event in Orlando, FL. While the election was still months away, and Governor Clinton had not yet become President Clinton, there was still something cool about meeting someone on the campaign trail.

Years later, meeting candidate Clinton is still one of the more memorable moments of my journalistic career. I am sure that reporters that cover the Presidents on a daily basis lose some of the wow factor at some point but there always needs to be a respect for the office at some level.

Although other Ballparks have been used for Presidential pitches, the home Ballparks of the Washington Senators and now the Washington Nationals hold the distinction of hosting the most presidents due to the proximity to the White House.
Photo R. Anderson

There are of course many perks that come with residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington D.C. One of those perks is throwing the ceremonial first pitch each year on Opening Day.

President William Howard Taft started the ceremonial first pitch tradition in 1910 linking the Commander in Chief with the National Pastime ever since.

While the first pitch did not occur until 1910 the link between Presidents and baseball actually goes back to post Civil War America when Andrew Johnson invited the first team of professional ballplayers to the White House.

The first presidential first pitch occurred on April 14, 1910, at National Park in Washington, DC. during a game between the Washington Senators and the Philadelphia Athletics with Taft connecting on the pitch to Walter Johnson.

The Senators moved to Minnesota to become the Twins and the Athletics packed up and headed west to Oakland but the one constant for over a century has been presidents and baseball.

From 1910 to 1971 the President traveled to the home ballpark of the Washington Senators to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day.

To put that streak into perspective it stretched from Taft to Richard Nixon.

While Presidents had thrown out first pitches at the World Series as well President Nixon became the first president to throw out an Opening Day pitch outside of Washington D.C. in 1972 when he threw out the pitch in Anaheim, California since there was no longer a team in Washington.

Before becoming the 41st President of the United States George Herbert Walker Bush was a baseball player at Yale University.
Photo R. Anderson

Various other ballparks were used for Opening Day after 1972 but Baltimore and Washington D.C. were the most widely used due to proximity to the White House.

For around 70 years the first pitch was thrown from the stands. Bill Clinton became the first president to throw from the mound and each president since has also toed the rubber on their pitch.

The Presidential links to baseball are not limited to first pitches alone however. Both President Bush 41 and President Bush 43 also have deep baseball roots.

George H.W. Bush was a baseball player in college at Yale and can often be seen behind home plate at Houston Astros games.

Before becoming governor of Texas en route to the White House, George W. Bush served as the owner of the Texas Rangers who relocated from Washington D.C. in 1971.
Photo R. Anderson

It is also a given that if both President Bush and his wife, Barbara, are seated together they will end up on the Ballpark’s kiss cam.

George W. Bush also has a baseball pedigree. Before becoming governor of Texas en route to the White House, the younger President Bush served as the owner of the Texas Rangers who, as one may or not know were once the expansion team that replaced the first version of the Washington Senators who left town to become the Minnesota Twins. It is sort of a neat bow to tie it all together.

So, during this time that we honor our Presidents, let us not forget that soon it will once again be Opening Day and when the President steps onto the mound to throw that first pitch he will be continuing a long-standing tradition that honors both the past, present and future of both the Oval Office and the game of baseball itself.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to practice my pitching just in case I am ever called on to throw out a first pitch. After all, no one wants to be the person that bounces it a few times on the way to the catcher. Right 50 Cent?

Copyright 2016 R. Anderson