- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2009

UPDATED:

From making March Madness bracket picks in the White House Map Room to thanking Russians for Washington Capitals hockey star Alex Ovechkin, President Obama is embracing his role as America’s No. 1 sports fan.

He plays basketball and golfs most weekends, and he’s hosted nine sports teams from the Pittsburgh Steelers to the Columbus Crew soccer champions at the White House since taking office in January - a record-setting pace.

“The passion that Obama has is on the extreme side and shared by only a small handful of presidents,” said Marc Ganis, a sports analyst and president of Chicago-based SportsCorp Ltd.

Mr. Obama’s enthusiasm goes beyond the usual photo-op. He knows his facts and he loves his Chicago teams - pro basketball’s Bulls, pro football’s Bears and big league baseball’s White Sox.

On Tuesday night, Mr. Obama was in the sports spotlight again, throwing the ceremonial first pitch at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in St. Louis and trading quips with Fox Sports play-by-play announcer Joe Buck - including an insult to the Washington Nationals’ lousy season.

The southpaw president had practiced his delivery in the White House Rose Garden and in Busch Stadium for a warm-up session with St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols. Mr. Obama was hoping for a better pitch than his 2005 attempt at the Angels-White Sox game, but his pitch was short of the plate.

Still, the president did a fist pump after the throw and later told Mr. Buck that baseball is “such a reminder about what’s great about this country. You can’t beat it.”

“This is as much fun as I’ve had in quite some time,” he added.

His color commentary included “Uh-oh” on a tough play, and “How ‘bout that?” during a good moment. He also joked baseball couldn’t have a federal bailout because “We’re out of money.”

In the locker room before the game, Mr. Obama hugged players and signed autographs.

Mr. Obama, who took to the mound in a White Sox jacket, was introduced to TV viewers as “A Sox fan through and through.”

“I like the fact that he’s active in sports,” a Washington ESPN Zone bartender said as Mr. Obama was on the jumbo television screen.

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