“Everyone who loves baseball can remember the first time he saw the inside of a real major league park with real big-league players. It stays with you forever–the greenness of the grass, the sight of major leaguers in uniform, the sound of a big-league swing meeting a big-league pitch.”
George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States, former co-owner of the Texas Rangers
While I’m no fan of his politics even W. and I can agree on one thing, our love of baseball. And he was not the first baseball fan to occupy the White House. So on this President’s Day, let’s put politics aside, and give some love to the Presidents who have loved our national pastime.
Even in our country’s earliest days, according to a soldier’s diary, George Washington “played catch with his aides de camp for hours at a time” while camped at Valley Forge. And Abraham Lincoln was known to go out into the fields (now known as the South Lawn) to hit some baseballs with the boys. They say that Big Abe could hit the ball a country mile.
Since then, almost every President has played a role in our national pastime. Legend has it that William Taft, uncomfortable in his seat during a ballgame (after all he was over 300 pounds!,) rose to stretch his legs after the top of the 7th inning. To honor the President, a crowd of onlookers joined in and the seventh inning stretch was born. (Although there are those who dispute this story, it was too good not to include.)
But my favorite is this tale, perhaps apocryphal, about Herbert Hoover and the Babe. When Babe Ruth was told he made more money than the President, the Babe replied, “Why not? I had a better year.”
President John F. Kennedy, an avid Red Sox fan, took his love of baseball seriously. He actually appointed an Under Secretary of Baseball to keep him up-to-date on scores and stats. Really. You can’t make this stuff up.
And when current President Barack Obama threw out the first pitch at last year’s Washington Nationals game it marked the 100th Anniversary of Presidential First Pitches on Opening Day. (President Taft was the first in 1910.)
While some may think it frivolous for Presidents to engage in these activities, I am not one of them. What these leaders have realized is that baseball is more than a national pastime, it is our national passion. Its fans are young and old, men and women, liberal and conservative. And in hard times, like after 9-11, our shared love of baseball has even helped to bring our country together.
So Happy President’s Day.
God Bless America.
God Bless Baseball.