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Catching a Presidential Pitch

"What you do," Hannan recalled Retzer saying, "is get in the back, and let them all jump for it. Usually, they miss it, and it falls to the ground. Then, you got to be quick."

So Hannan followed the advice -- and got the ball, tossed by President Kennedy.

President Calvin Coolidge, at right, prepares to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to Senators pitcher Walter Johnson, bottom, wearing glove, in the 1924 opener at Griffith Stadium. (Courtesy of Henry W. Thomas)

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Of course, things happened in those days that simply wouldn't happen now. One year, probably 1963, the team stayed at the old Windsor Park Hotel on Connecticut Avenue for the first few days after arriving in town, before they could find apartments or houses. Outfielder Jimmy Piersall got a car dealer buddy to lend him an old jalopy to get around town the first few days. Early in the season, Piersall asked Hannan to hop in the car with him and drive over to the ballpark, then known as D.C. Stadium.

"Lo and behold," Hannan said, "that car broke down right in front of the White House. Right in the dead-center in front of it, on Pennsylvania Avenue. Imagine that."

Hannan and Piersall hopped out, hailed a cab and made it to the game. But later that night, the clubhouse phone rang. It was for Piersall, who picked it up, and heard something along the lines of, "What are you doing leaving these junk heaps in front of my house in Washington? I'm a respectable man."

It was, of course, President Kennedy.

Security, even in those days, was tight. One night in 1971, President Nixon was at the park. Tom McCraw, a Senators outfielder back then who is now the Nationals' hitting coach, left the dugout in the middle of the game to head back to the clubhouse to grab something.

"I walked by the manager's office, and there was this absolutely huge Secret Service guy there," McCraw said. "I didn't know what to do, so I just said, 'Hello, sir. How are you?' And he didn't flinch. Stood there like a stone wall."

Almost all of the old Senators have a link to presidents past. And in part because of that, they will have a hand in returning baseball to the nation's capital. Hannan said former Senators are scheduled to take the field tomorrow night, one at each position. They will carry the gloves of the current players out with them, and when Washington's new Nationals are introduced, they will receive their gloves from the heroes of the past.

And for the first pitch, Joe Grzenda, the 67-year-old Pennsylvanian who threw the last pitch in Senators history, will walk to the mound, carrying that very same ball. He will hand it to President Bush, who will toss it toward home, presumably to Schneider.

"I've been thinking about it for a long time," Schneider said. "People would have to fight me for it. It's part of history."

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