Obama Continues Century-Old Baseball Tradition
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
President Obama continued a century-old annual tradition yesterday. He threw the ceremonial first pitch on the opening day of baseball season as the Washington Nationals hosted the Philadelphia Phillies. NPR's Don Gonyea was there.
DON GONYEA: The first president to throw out the first ball did so in 1910. It was President Taft doing the honors for the old Washington Senators. Click through an opening day scrap book and there's Herbert Hoover in warm topcoat and hat; FDR seated, arm outstretched, mid-throw. Then there's Eisenhower, clearly enjoying the moment, and John F. Kennedy in a perfect pinstriped suit. President Obama had done this before, opening day last year in Chicago, not D.C., and then at last year's All Star Game in St. Louis.
Unidentified Man #1: Please welcome the president of the United States of America.
GONYEA: After that pitch, which almost made it to the plate, most of the chatter was about the president's choice of clothing, specifically the baggy blue jeans he was wearing - mom jeans, they were called. He was asked about it by NBC News.
(Soundbite of news broadcast)
Unidentified Woman: Do you want to defend the pants?
President BARACK OBAMA: No.
GONYEA: The president's response?
President OBAMA: For those of you who, you know, want your president to, you know, look great in his tight jeans, I'm sorry, I'm not the guy.
GONYEA: So yesterday, while the pomp and ceremony at Nationals Park was all about getting a new baseball season underway, for the president it was also a chance for some redemption.
Unidentified Man #2: The 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, will be throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.
GONYEA: As always happens on Opening Day, the boos competed with the cheers for the president. This time the baggy jeans were replaced by trim, creased khakis. The president wore a red Washington Nationals jacket and a Chicago White Sox cap, honoring one of his hometown teams.
(Soundbite of cheering)
GONYEA: As for the pitch, it was high and way outside to the left. His conservative critics no doubt snickered. It's a clich� that baseball fans always look for larger meaning in whatever happens between the baselines, especially on opening day. But when you're talking baseball and politics, what's wrong with reading big things into something as small as lobbing a ball from the pitcher's mound to home plate.
I spoke with Ken Rudin, who writes the Political Junkie blog for NPR.org.
KEN RUDIN: In 2005, Barack Obama was a freshman senator from Illinois. Four years later he was president of the United States. I think we have the same kind of hope with our baseball teams. On opening day anything is possible. Everything is possible. Well, that is except for the Nationals to do well.
GONYEA: For those of you keeping score at home, the Washington Nationals lost to the Phillies yesterday, 11-1.
Still, it was a good day for the president, who was also on the halftime show on Saturday during the NCAA basketball Final Four, shooting hoops on the outdoor court at the White House.
Kevin Blackistone was watching all of this on his perch as an AOL sports columnist and ESPN commentator.
Mr. KEVIN BLACKISTONE (ESPN): But I'll tell you what, this particular president really likes to get his sports on. I mean, basketball over the weekend, throwing out the first pitch now.
GONYEA: I pointed out that in the middle of all this, Mr. Obama hosted the annual White House Easter egg roll.
Mr. BLACKISTONE: And I hope he didn't roll one of the Easter eggs, because we know he's not a very good bowler.
GONYEA: We saw that during the campaign.
Mr. BLACKISTONE: Hopefully for the last time.
GONYEA: Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.