President Bush threw out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals’ home opener last night at RFK Stadium, a responsibility he considered much more than ceremonial.
“I am a baseball fan, and I love great moments in baseball,” Mr. Bush said yesterday morning in an interview in the Oval Office. “Tonight, for me personally, is going to be a great moment for baseball. It is also a great thrill as a baseball fan to be invited to throw out a pitch.”
As a former owner of the Texas Rangers, Mr. Bush has a long history with major league baseball, which returned to Washington last night after 34 years. The last president to throw out the first pitch in Washington was Richard M. Nixon in 1969.
Last night’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks was the fourth time that Mr. Bush has thrown out the first pitch at a major league game while in office. He called the 2001 World Series at Yankee Stadium after the September 11 attacks the most memorable. But he was particularly looking forward to last night.
“You try to control your adrenaline, not go with your heat and wear the right shoes,” he said as a joke. “I have been in front of a lot of crowds as president and governor. I have spoken before 200,000 some people in Romania, but there is nothing like going out there to throw that ball. It is a different feeling. The crowd is all pumped up. The relationship between the mound and the plate is really different than you think. I can remember Davey Lopes caught the ball in Milwaukee [in 2001]. I got out there, and I wondered, ‘Where is Lopes?’ He seemed so far away.”
And that’s something baseball isn’t anymore, after the Montreal Expos moved to Washington last fall. As a result, Mr. Bush has kept an eye on the hometown team.
“I am excited about the team,” he said. “I started paying attention to the lineups during spring training and watched the pitching staff. I know that Livan Hernandez is pitching tonight. I have read the comments from Brian Schneider about catching the first pitch. I spend a fair amount of time in the box scores on a daily basis. That’s one way to take your mind off your job, to delve into the moment.”
At the same time, the capital’s No. 1 fan never felt obligated to get involved in the process that brought the team to the District, even when the relocation looked uncertain.
“I viewed it as a local matter that would have to be decided by local opinion makers, local editorialists and most importantly the local elected officials,” he said. “I have been through an experience of convincing people — in our case, we actually had an election to determine whether the local people wanted to spend money to build the stadium. We had a specific referendum, a vote. I am mindful of the local nature of franchises and stadiums. I never had any intention of butting in or weighing in. I did follow it because I am interested in baseball.”
Though Mr. Bush chose not to get involved with the move, he certainly supported it.
“I think it is good for baseball to come back to the nation’s capital,” he said. “I believe the demographics have changed enough and hopefully the stadium will accommodate the increased population in the region. I say accommodate, make it convenient for people to get to the park, so it does a repeat business. I think a business where you convince customers of coming more than once will work. I know how exciting baseball can be for a community.”
Mr. Bush became general managing partner of the Rangers — coincidentally, the second franchise known as the Washington Senators until it left the District in 1971 — in 1989 until he was elected governor of Texas in 1994. His introduction to Rangers fans as an owner came on an Opening Day.
“I can remember our Opening Day at Arlington Stadium, when Rusty Rose and I went to be introduced as the prospective owners with [then-owner] Eddie Chiles because they hadn’t quite closed the deal,” he said. “Tom Landry threw out the first ball, and I remember thinking, ‘God, this is really a great experience.’
“This will be kind of reminiscent of other opening pitches I’ve thrown and that one day I was introduced as one of the owners of the Rangers but with a different twist to it — as president in the nation’s capital. … Since it is not my first pitch, I will be able to observe more. Like the [second] inaugural address, I was able to take in more of the moment. I want to enjoy it and absorb it and be able to really get outside myself and get a sense of the atmosphere.”