Today the Baltimore Orioles will hold their first team workout with the full squad. Grapefruit League play of course will begin on Friday in Sarasota as the O’s take on Tampa. But today is also a Federal Holiday: President’s Day.
So as a baseball writer and a lifelong civics and history buff, I write this column every year – combining the two. Any game in which the President of the United States throws out the first pitch is special. Usually this happens on Opening Day or in the World Series. It can also happen in the All-Star game – or any other game for that matter.
The tradition began in 1910 with President William Howard Taft throwing out the first pitch on Opening Day for the Washington Senators. The 100th anniversary of this event was commemorated in 2010 when President Barrack Obama threw out the first pitch on Opening Day at Nationals Park in Washington DC. In between those two bookends, every President has done the honors at least once.
And if you think about it, that’s quite an accomplishment given that Washington didn’t have baseball for so long. Of all of the gentlemen who have done it, President Franklin D. Roosevelt did the honors more than any other. And that makes sense given the fact that he was President for longer than any man in history. He was also in a wheelchair for most of his adult life, adding to the fact that it’s impressive he did it every year. But that in and of itself is no excuse for his first pitch hitting a Washington Post camera on Opening Day, 1940. C’mon Mr. President, command the ball – don’t throw it!
After baseball left our nation’s capital, Baltimore was able to host the “Presidential Opener” a few times. Not only that, but President Jimmy Carter’s lone first pitch as President came in the World Series in 1979 at Memorial Stadium. President Ronald Reagan came to town on Opening Day in 1984 and 1986, as did President George H.W. Bush in 1989. (Reagan also threw out the first ball in a World Series game at Memorial Stadium in 1983.)
President Bush returned to Baltimore on Opening Day 1992, however that came at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The inaugural game at the ballpark, in fact. I remember it very well; the President, a former Yale first baseman, threw the ball off the plate and in the dirt. He would later say that was exactly what he wanted to do – slider low and inside to a right-handed hitter. I always thought that was a pretty quick comeback on his part.
President Bill Clinton came to Baltimore twice to open the season with the first pitch, in 1993 and 1996. And President George W. Bush became the first sitting President to toss out the first ball in Washington DC when baseball returned in the form of the Nationals. His successor, President Obama, gave a great quote about our national pasttime in 2016 in Cuba attending the historic Tampa Rays vs. Cuba game (quote courtesy of Michael Memoli, Los Angeles Times):
There is something about baseball that is so fundamentally woven into our culture. And in some ways, at a time in our lives where everything’s a mile a minute and kids are on their phones all the time and there’s just this constant stream of information, there’s nothing like going to a ballpark and just everything slowing down a little bit.
The rhythm of the game gives you a sense of appreciation about all the blessings we have. It’s still a family game in a way that is really hard to match.
He couldn’t be more right. And a great part of that is due to the relationship that baseball has with America’s Chief Executives. No other sport can brag of Presidential participation like baseball can. Hockey games will sometimes mirror this tradition by having a ceremonial drop of the puck, but let’s be real – it’s a baseball thing. And it’s mainly a thing because the President of the United States is involved.
Which brings us to the current time period. I know that Baltimoreans and people in countless other places would love for the President to come and do the honors in their city. It’s a non-partisan tradition that celebrates America’s pasttime, and America herself. But let’s not kid ourselves, it really belongs in one city and one city only. So to President Donald Trump or anyone in the Trump Administration who’s willing to listen, in closing I say one thing. The President of the United States should throw out the first ball on Opening Day in Washington D.C. every year.
Party affiliation and politics aside, that needs to start happening again. Yes, that means that the Washington Nationals should always open at home, and the sitting President should be there to do the honors. If he wants to do it in other cities on other days over the course of the year, fine. But I’ll say it again: The President of the United States should throw out the first ball on Opening Day in Washington D.C. every year!