Obama takes to the pitcher's mound to set things right

President Obama took to the mound at the Washington Nationals season opener against the Philadelphia Phillies. It's no first -- there's a long history of U.S. presidents throwing out the first pitch at baseball games.
By Michael D. Shear
Monday, April 5, 2010; 1:49 PM

President Obama pitched high and way to the left as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch of the 2010 baseball season at Nationals Park Monday, marking the 100th year of the presidential tradition.

Dressed in khakis and a red Nationals jacket, Obama waited until he got to the pitcher's mound to put a Chicago White Sox cap on his head, grinning from ear to ear as he did so.

Obama, a lefty, put his mitt on his right hand and took very little time to warm up, firing off his pitch quickly. Unlike last year, when he pitched a near-grounder at the All Star Game, the president's ball popped high, prompting the catcher -- third baseman Ryan Zimmerman -- to leap to his right to catch it.

Unfazed, Obama waved to the crowd, stopping briefly to shake hands with members of the team before heading off of the field.

Obama received a rousing welcome from fans in the packed stadium, who had turned out on a beautiful spring day for the game against the Phillies. Rob Dibble, a sports broadcaster on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, described Obama as a "lanky left hander" and compared him to the Philly pitcher Cole Hamels.

The president did not take his appearance on the mound for granted, aides said. Press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama practiced pitching within the past week with aides Reggie Love and Marvin Nicholson.

"Like major leaguers making their debut tonight, the president has fit in a little spring training to get his arm in shape," Gibbs said.

Obama follows in the footsteps of William Howard Taft, who started the practice in 1910 with the then-Washington Senators, and every president since then -- with the exception of Jimmy Carter, who threw out a pitch for a World Series game but never on Opening Day.

Presidents have skipped for all sorts of reasons -- Woodrow Wilson cited World War I a couple of times; Taft missed the 1912 opener because a friend died on the Titanic; Dwight D. Eisenhower is said to have passed one year to play golf instead. Last year Obama let Vice President Biden throw out a pitch at Washington's opener.

The White House staff is no doubt hoping that the image of Obama on the mound will portend good things for a year that is jam-packed with tough agenda items: nuclear arms treaties; Iran sanctions; financial reform; environmental legislation; another Supreme Court battle; continued economic doldrums; and more Afghan concerns.

Not that a first pitch always guarantees success in the future. Richard M. Nixon threw out the first pitch for the California Angels on April 6, 1973, in the opening game at Anaheim Stadium. (It was the first presidential pitch for a team other than the Senators, who had left Washington.)

Nixon resigned the following year.

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