At a White House coronavirus briefing Thursday, the president told reporters that he accepted an invitation from Yankees President Randy Levine to perform the pregame ceremony. The team subsequently confirmed that Trump would throw the ceremonial pitch at some point this season, according to ESPN.
Trump has yet to throw out a first pitch since he took office, and he is running out of time in his term to extend a presidential tradition that dates from William Howard Taft in 1910. Since then, every president has performed the honor at least once at a major league game, and Jimmy Carter is the only one never to do so on an Opening Day.
Trump noted Thursday that there wouldn’t be a crowd at Yankee Stadium, referring to the fact that fans have been barred from attending MLB games, as well as games in many other major sports leagues, to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
After shutting down spring training in mid-March, MLB shortened its regular season this year to 60 games, its smallest slate since 1878. The season began Thursday with a matchup between the Yankees and the host Washington Nationals, during which the first pitch was thrown by Anthony S. Fauci, the Trump administration’s top infectious-disease official.
With the national rate of new coronavirus cases rising sharply from mid-June to mid-July and deaths in the United States rapidly approaching 150,000, Trump has garnered high disapproval in polls of his handling of the pandemic. The president has made some noteworthy concessions recently to the coronavirus crisis, including wearing a mask in public for the first time and canceling the Republican National Convention activities scheduled for next month in Jacksonville, Fla.
On Sunday, Trump took to Twitter to describe his coronavirus-related efforts as keeping him too busy to travel to New York next month. In one of his tweets Saturday, he praised his golfing partner that day, former NFL quarterback Brett Favre, saying the Hall of Famer “hits it LONG!”
A frequent and vehement critic of NFL player protests against racial injustice and police brutality because he is offended that they have taken place during the national anthem, Trump returned to that issue Tuesday after members of the San Francisco Giants took a knee before an exhibition baseball game.
“Looking forward to live sports,” Trump tweeted then, “but any time I witness a player kneeling during the National Anthem, a sign of great disrespect for our Country and our Flag, the game is over for me!”
At MLB’s season opener Thursday, every member of the Yankees and Nationals took a knee while holding a black cloth before returning to standing during the anthem. Two Yankees players, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks, then knelt during the anthem before a game Saturday at Nationals Park, located three miles from the White House.
“I’m a black man living in America. I feel like for me, I should be judged by my character and not by my skin tone,” Hicks said after the game (via the New York Daily News). “So growing up, that’s kind of what’s happened. … It’s kind of a hard thing to talk about, especially when it’s my life, you know? All I want is to be treated the right way. And that’s all I’m asking.”
Stanton, who said he would continue to kneel, was asked Saturday night about the prospect of Trump throwing out the first pitch at the Yankees’ home game Aug. 15 against the Boston Red Sox.
“I’m not positive, but that’s not for sure,” Stanton replied. “But at the same time, we’ll get there when we get there. I mean, that’s in August. It’s not something I need to worry about now.”
When the Nationals played in last year’s World Series, Trump claimed he would not want to throw out the first pitch at one of Washington’s home games.
“They’ve got to dress me up in a lot of heavy armor — I’ll look too heavy,” he said at the time.
Trump did make an appearance in a luxury suite at Nationals Park during Game 5. When the president was announced to the crowd in the third inning, he was loudly booed.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. criticized the Yankees over the weekend for inviting Trump to throw out a first pitch.
“After CONDEMNING racism, the next step isn’t inviting it to your pitcher’s mound,” de Blasio tweeted Saturday. “To the players that knelt for the [Black Lives Matter] movement, we applaud you. To the execs that have aligned with hatred, you are on the wrong side of history and morality.”
There was no immediate word on whether the White House and the Yankees agreed on a later date. MLB’s regular season is scheduled to end Sept. 27, with an expanded, 16-team postseason beginning Sept. 29.