- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2005

President Bush, after loosening up his arm out of the view of the crowd at RFK Stadium, emerged from the Washington Nationals’ dugout last night wearing a bright red Nationals jacket.

After a few quick waves to the cheering crowd, he got down to business, toeing the rubber, rearing back as he prepared to hurl the first ceremonial first pitch at a big league game involving a D.C. team in 34 years.

The pressure was on, since the former college player established a reputation as an accurate pitcher with the perfect strike he threw at Yankee Stadium to open Game 3 of the 2001 World Series, seven weeks to the day after the September 11 attacks forever altered the New York skyline.

Mr. Bush’s pitch on that day was so good that it was used as a metaphor for presidential leadership in a promotional film shown at the Republican National Convention last year.

Last night’s pitch held no such political weight, but inaugurated the return of baseball to the nation’s capital by one of the biggest fans ever to live in the White House.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Bush addressed the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention and suggested he has given this moment a lot of thought.

“I’ve got a decision to make. Do I go with the fastball or a slider?” the president said.

Former Washington Senators pitcher Joe Grzenda handed Mr. Bush the same ball that he threw on Sept. 30, 1971, as he headed to the mound. It was the last ball pitched at RFK Stadium in an official major league game for a D.C. team — until last night.

With the expected extra-ceremonial zip, Mr. Bush let the ball fly toward Nationals catcher Brian Schneider.

It was a fastball.

A ball.

High and inside to a phantom right-handed batter.

Mr. Bush let crack a sheepish smile, then retreated beneath the stands and made his way to the presidential box behind home plate in the second deck.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday that Mr. Bush has been preparing his arm for this moment for weeks.

“The president managed to get in a little bit of warm-up time last week before we left for Rome and then a little bit yesterday,” Mr. McClellan said. “This is one of those great moments in baseball, and to be able to participate in it is exciting.

“I think the people of this whole area are excited about baseball coming back to Washington, D.C.,” Mr. McClellan said. “He’s an avid baseball fan. He has a great love for the game, and he looks forward to begin baseball here in Washington again.”

Mr. Bush’s first pitch was delivered exactly 95 years to the day that President Taft began the tradition before a Senators-Athletics game on April 14, 1910. And it seemed fitting that this president took part in the return of baseball to Washington.

The Washington Senators left town after the 1971 season to become the Texas Rangers — the team Mr. Bush owned in the early 1990s.

Before Mr. Bush’s pitch, other Washington politicians were introduced. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who fought hard to bring baseball back to Washington, was cheered heartily.

D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, who nearly scuttled the deal that moved the Montreal Expos to Washington, was booed loudly.

The negative reaction to her presence spared Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig from being the heel of last night’s show.

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