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Nats are bringing in the lefty

Tuesday, March 30, 2010; D02

Blog excerpt from washingtonpost.com/nationalsjournal

President Obama will throw out the ceremonial first pitch on opening day Monday at Nationals Park, continuing a tradition that began 100 years ago and making him the second sitting president to throw the pitch since baseball returned to Washington in 2005.

"It's one of the things that makes baseball in Washington so unique and makes it so special," Nationals President Stan Kasten said. "It reminds us of the game's roots, but it's also very contemporary. That's what makes it so great that we're going to have the leader of the free world here at our ballpark."

Kasten and the Nationals had given the president a long-standing, open invitation to throw out the first pitch on opening day. This year, it came together, "just the way these things do," Kasten said.

President Bush threw out the first pitch twice, in 2005 when baseball first returned to Washington and in 2008, when Nationals Park opened. Last season, his first in office, President Obama threw out the first pitch at the All-Star Game in St. Louis.

"I am proud that President Obama will continue the long presidential tradition of throwing out the first pitch of opening day in Washington, D.C.," said Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig, who also will be in attendance at Nationals Park.

Catcher Iván Rodríguez, entering his 20th major league season, will catch President Obama's toss. Rodríguez twice caught opening day ceremonial pitches from President Bush, the former owner of the Texas Rangers, during his time as a Rangers catcher. "He used to be my boss, a long time ago" Rodríguez said, laughing. Rodríguez has never met President Obama.

"I've been telling Mike [Rizzo] that I want to meet [President Obama]," Rodríguez said. "It's going to be an honor for me. It's going to be a special deal for me."

Starting pitcher Jason Marquis met him last season, when Marquis made the National League all-star team and President Obama toured the clubhouse inside Busch Stadium. Marquis received an autographed baseball and chatted briefly.

"It's nice to have a president who's up on current times and enjoys sports," Marquis said. "It's great for fans, great for the city of Washington."

Utility player Willie Harris played for the White Sox in 2005, when Obama, then a senator from Illinois, threw out the first pitch for a White Sox playoff game. The White Sox, with Harris contributing, eventually won the World Series that season.

"I know he's supposed to slide in, come through the clubhouse and be right out of there. But I'm going to see if that World Series ring can stall him for a little while, maybe have a few conversations with him," Harris said.

Because of enhanced security, the Nationals encourage fans to arrive at Nationals Park an hour or two earlier than typical. Gates will open at 10 a.m. The Nationals are sold out for opening day, but they will make available 400 $5 seats in sections 401 and 402 at 10 a.m. on the day of the game.

-- Adam Kilgore

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