Noting that New York Yankees President Randy Levine is “a great friend of mine,” Trump said that Levine “asked me to throw out the first pitch.”
“And I think I’m doing that on August 15 at Yankee Stadium,” Trump declared while speaking from the podium in the White House. As he was making those remarks, the president turned to look at former Yankees star Mariano Rivera, who was on hand to help mark MLB’s Opening Day.
Trump then noted that there won’t be a “crowd” at the stadium that day. MLB is not allowing fans in the stands while it tries to play a truncated season amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s going to be interesting, Mariano,” Trump said to the Hall of Famer, who is considered by many to be the greatest relief pitcher in MLB history.
“He’s not used to that,” Trump continued, referring to Rivera, to whom he awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year. “I’ve been at many games — he walks in, the place goes crazy. I think you’d be just as good without the crowd. You were just born with it, you know?”
When the Washington Nationals were in the World Series last year against the Houston Astros, Trump said he would not want to throw out the first pitch before one of the games played near the White House.
“They’ve got to dress me up in a lot of heavy armor — I’ll look too heavy,” he told a reporter who asked at the time about that possibility. However, Trump said that he would attend Game 5 of the series, which was held at Nationals Park and for which José Andrés, a D.C. restaurateur and humanitarian — and noted critic of the president — was given the first-pitch honors.
When the president was announced to the crowd during the third inning of that Game 5, he was booed heavily. Trump, who was with first lady Melania Trump as well as White House aides and several Republican lawmakers, did not show a strong reaction as he waved from his luxury suite high above the field.
Trump’s announcement Thursday that he would perform the ceremonial honors in August came shortly before the first game of the 2020 MLB season, featuring the Nationals hosting the Yankees. The first pitch for that game was thrown by Anthony S. Fauci, the Trump administration’s top infectious-disease official who has occasionally had a strained relationship with the president as the latter’s handling of the pandemic has been met with sharp disapproval in national polls.
The date on which Trump said he will throw the first pitch has the Yankees hosting their archrivals, the Boston Red Sox. A native New Yorker, Trump is a longtime attendee at Yankees games who was “good friends” with legendary former team owner George Steinbrenner, Levine said last year.
The tradition of U.S. presidents throwing out first pitches dates back to William Howard Taft in 1910. Since then, every sitting president has thrown out at least one first pitch on MLB’s Opening Day except for Jimmy Carter, whose only time performing the honors while in office occurred during the 1979 World Series.
As with Carter, Trump is waiting until his first term — the only presidential term for Carter — is nearly over to follow in a tradition over one hundred years in the making. However, he has thrown out first pitches in the past, including at a 2006 Yankees-Red Sox game at Boston’s Fenway Park.
In 2004, the future president landed in his Trump-branded private helicopter on the field before a minor league game in Bridgewater Township, N.J. After striding from the craft with then-fiancee Melania Knauss, he warmed up before taking the mound and firing a pitch that appeared to be scooped by the catcher after it hit the dirt in front of home plate.
Now 74, Trump played baseball in his youth, including at the New York Military Academy, where he was a first baseman.
“I was captain of the baseball team,” Trump said of that period to MTV in 2010. “I was supposed to be a professional baseball player. Fortunately, I decided to go into real estate instead.”
He also tweeted in 2013 that he was “said to be the best bball player in N.Y. State,” telling anyone who might be skeptical to check with a former coach at the academy, Ted Dobias. Shortly after Trump launched his presidential campaign in 2015, Dobias claimed that Trump had been scouted by the Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies, telling the U.K.'s Daily Mail, “He was quite the athlete.”
A report in May by Slate, which scoured game stories and box scores from local newspapers during the years Trump played at the academy, came to the conclusion that he was likely a good defensive first baseman but a poor hitter. Slate also noted that there appeared to be no features on Trump in those newspapers, which would have been unusual for a local athlete of the prowess he claimed to have possessed.