- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2006

CINCINNATI — President Bush fired his ceremonial first pitch a little high and off the plate yesterday afternoon in the Cincinnati Reds’ home opener, becoming the first sitting president to throw the opening pitch in the home of the first professional baseball club.

Wearing a Reds warm-up jacket, Mr. Bush threw an overhand toss that Reds catcher Jason LaRue had to come up out of his crouch to field.

“They swing at those pitches,” said Sen. Jim Bunning, Kentucky Republican, a Hall of Fame pitcher who joined Mr. Bush at the game and on Air Force One’s trip back to Washington. Mr. Bunning said Mr. Bush had “good velocity” on his pitch.

As he watched the Reds take on the Cubs from the owner’s box at the Great American Ball Park, Mr. Bush told Fox Sports Network that he threw “my best pitch, which was kind of a slow ball.”

Mr. Bush loosened up over the weekend at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, pitching to White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin, a Cincinnati native.

The president took the field with two veterans from the war on terror and a father whose son was killed in Afghanistan: Army Sgt. Paul Brondhaver, who was wounded in Iraq; Army Sgt. Mike McNaughton, who lost his right leg and two fingers when he stepped on a land mine in Afghanistan; and John Prazynski, whose son Taylor was killed in Iraq last year.

Sgt. McNaughton had met Mr. Bush before, running with him at the White House after receiving a prosthetic leg.

The group was greeted by loud cheers from most of the crowd of more than 40,000, though there were scattered boos.

Before the game, the president met with both teams in their locker rooms and posed for pictures. He collected a bat from Reds center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. He also asked Reds right-handed pitcher David Weathers for some tips on how to throw and found a supporter in left-hander Kent Mercker, who told Mr. Bush that he had “wanted to wear another hat, but it didn’t match” — and then held up a blue Bush-Cheney cap taken from his locker.

When Mr. Bush visited the locker room of the Cubs, baseball’s “lovable losers” who haven’t won a World Series since 1908, he announced that “this is the year.” He may be right. The Cubs blasted the Reds, 16-7.

Those flying on Air Force One on the way back saw the Texas Rangers, of which Mr. Bush used to be a part-owner, lose to the Boston Red Sox.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig also sat in the owner’s box with the president, Mr. Bunning and other members of Congress. Mr. Bunning said the issue of steroids “came up,” but did not elaborate.

Whether Mr. Bush will turn to a pinch hitter for staffers in his own administration remains to be seen. Incoming Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten has the ability to make changes, and while speculation in the press is growing, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said yesterday that he would not join in the speculation.

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