Hail to the Chief and Play Ball

Today is President’s Day, or Washington’s birthday as it is also known. While originally the holiday was thought of as a way to recognize the two presidents with birthdays in February, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, President’s Day has grown to include a time to honor all of the men, and most likely some day women, who have served in the nation’s highest office.

Of course, if one has been watching television the past weekend, it appears that President’s Day has also become a time to buy furniture, appliances and cars at unheard of savings. While the founding fathers wanted us to enjoy various freedoms, I doubt they had no interest financing on washers and dryers in mind. Then again maybe they did.

So for our purposes let us not focus on the retail aspects of the day but let us try to focus on the office of the President and what that entails. To date, 44 men have served as President of the United States from Washington to Obama. And while the nation still recovers from the latest multi-year campaign for the office it is important to remember that by and large the system of government that we enjoy is for the most part stable and allows each of us to enjoy freedoms that we would not otherwise have under certain other governmental systems. And of course there is still that whole area of no interest financing. I really need to stop watching television on holiday weekends.

Campaign bumper sticker for the 1992 campaign of Bill Clinton.  Clinton defeated George Bush to become the 42nd President of the united States.
Campaign bumper sticker for the 1992 campaign of Bill Clinton. Clinton defeated George Bush to become the 42nd President of the United States.

I was fortunate enough to come face to face with one of the men who would go on to become president. In 1992 I met Bill Clinton at a campaign event in Orlando, FL. While the election was still months away, and Governor Clinton had not yet become President Clinton, there was still something cool about meeting someone on the campaign trail. I am far from the most politically active of people and part of that was by choice. I felt a reporter should be impartial and not let their political leanings show so I always tried to use that mantra as my guide. Years later though, meeting candidate Clinton is still one of the more memorable moments of my journalistic career. I am sure that reporters that cover the Presidents on a daily basis lose some of the wow factor at some point but there always needs to be a respect for the office at some level.

So on this presidential holiday let us not focus on the civics behind the position, or the red state versus blue state leanings. Let us not even focus on the plethora of sales that will end tonight at midnight. Instead, let us focus on one of the many perks of residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington D.C.; the ceremonial first pitch.

President William Howard Taft started a tradition in 1910 that has linked the Commander in Chief with the National Pastime ever since when he threw out the first pitch on Opening Day. The first presidential first pitch occurred on April 14, 1910, at National Park in Washington, DC. during a game between the Washington Senators and the Philadelphia Athletics with Taft connecting on the pitch to Walter Johnson. The Senators moved to Minnesota to become the Twins and the Athletics packed up and headed west to Oakland but the one constant for 103 years has been presidents and baseball.

From 1910 to 1971 the President traveled to the home ballpark of the Washington Senators to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day. To put that streak into perspective it stretched from Taft to Richard Nixon. While Presidents had thrown out first pitches at the World Series as well President Nixon became the first president to throw out an Opening Day pitch outside of Washington D.C. in 1972 when he threw out the pitch in Anaheim, California since there was no longer a team in Washington. Various other ballparks were used for Opening Day after 1972 but Baltimore and Washington D.C. were the most widely used due to proximity to the White House.

While the first pitch did not occur until 1910 the link between Presidents and baseball actually goes back to post Civil War America when Andrew Johnson invited the first team of professional ballplayers to the White House. Other teams were invited as well in the years to follow by other presidents.

Campaign buttons From George H.W. Bush's 1988 Presidential campaign. Bush, was a former college baseball player. Photo R. Anderson
Campaign buttons From George H.W. Bush’s 1988 Presidential campaign. Bush, was a former college baseball player and can often be seen at Minute Maid park watching the Astros play.
Photo R. Anderson

The Presidential links to baseball are not limited to first pitches alone however. Both President Bush 41 and President Bush 43 also have deep baseball roots. George H.W. Bush was a baseball player in college and can often be seen behind home plate at Houston Astros games. It is also a given that if both President Bush and his wife, Barbara, are seated together they will end up on the stadium kiss cam.

George W. Bush also has a baseball pedigree. Before becoming governor of Texas en route to the White House, the younger President Bush served as the owner of the Texas Rangers who, as one may or not know were once the expansion team that replaced the first version of the Washington Senators who left town to become the Minnesota Twins. It is sort of a neat bow to tie it all together.

So on this day that we honor our Presidents let us not forget that soon it will once again be Opening Day and when the President steps onto the mound to throw that first pitch he will be continuing a long standing tradition that honors both the past, present and future of both the Oval Office and the game of baseball itself.

Now if you’ll excuse me I think I need to practice my pitching just in case I am ever called on to throw out a first pitch. After all, no one wants to be the person that bounces it a few times on the way to the catcher.

Copyright 2013 R. Anderson