Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Harry L. Horton, 64, has been attending major-league baseball in the nation’s capital since the days when he was growing up on East Capitol Street and watching the old Washington Senators at Griffith Stadium.

But yesterday was a first for him.

“I have never — ever — heard anyone get booed like that man,” the affable usher and lifelong Democrat said yesterday with a smile.

“That man” was Vice President Dick Cheney, who, two months after shooting a bird-hunting companion in the face, tried his hand at another sporting event — tossing out the first pitch for the Washington Nationals’ home opener at RFK Stadium.

The vice president, clad in a bright-red, bulky Nationals jacket, was announced just after opera tenor Placido Domingo had stirred the crowd with a soaring rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and F-16 fighter jets had roared overhead.

Mr. Cheney strode out of the Nats’ dugout and boos immediately began to rain down on him, growing to a crescendo as he neared the mound.

But not everyone at the half-filled stadium was booing. Former Clinton strategist James Carville, in the front row just behind the home team’s dugout, was howling like a hyena, his face contorted in laughter. Next to him, his wife, Mary Matalin, cheered enthusiastically as her former boss headed to the mound.

Yet the vice president, a year older than Mr. Horton, didn’t toe the pitcher’s rubber, 60 feet 6 inches from home plate. Instead, he took a spot in front of the mound, on the infield grass. The boos sustained their deafening pitch in the stadium’s bowl. With a jerky and short windup, the vice president threw the ball toward home plate.

It didn’t quite make it. The ball skipped in the dirt just in front of the plate, but was expertly scooped up by Washington catcher Brian Schneider. The fans booed until Mr. Cheney was back out of sight in the dugout.

The vice president’s wardrobe was suspicious on the hot and cloudless April day. Veteran White House reporters suspected he was wearing a bulletproof vest underneath, just as President Bush has in the past when he’s thrown out first pitches. But Mr. Horton said the security effort might have been misguided. “He don’t need the vest. We need the vest,” he said with another laugh.

The president, who last year threw out the ceremonial pitch when baseball returned to the capital for the first time since 1971, decided not to attend this year’s opener in a city where he got just 9 percent of the vote in the 2004 presidential election.

And Mr. Cheney likely didn’t win many fans yesterday, either. The ballpark was only half full at the 1:05 p.m. start time because hundreds were still stuck in long lines to clear metal detectors. The game didn’t go too well for the struggling Nats, either. They lost to the New York Mets, 7-1.

And, for the record, Mr. Horton didn’t boo the losing Nats or the vice president. “I may be a Democrat, but I’m not like that,” he said.

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