- The Washington Times - Monday, April 5, 2010

President Obama toed the rubber, eyed home plate, then reared back, kicked his leg into the air and fired the first pitch at the Washington Nationals’ home opener on Tuesday.

He had to throw the baseball 60 feet 6 inches. The semisoft toss made the distance but missed the strike zone by a mile. The ball flew way up to the left, prompting squatting third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, playing catcher, to stand up and do a little hop to catch it.

The president, throwing out his second ceremonial pitch in office, didn’t much mind. He stood atop the mound, waved to the cheering crowd and then strode off, doffing his cap.

When he took the mound, the crowd cheered a bit, but boos were clearly audible across the stadium. The crowd booed even louder when he donned a White Sox cap.

“I want the Nats to do well, I love ‘em, it’s great for the city, but I’m a South Side kid,” Mr. Obama said later when he joined announcers in the booth.

Of his pitch, Mr. Obama said: “I was a little disappointed with the pitch. It was high and outside. I was intentionally walking the guy.”

To view a video of President Obama’s ceremonial pitch at the Nationals’ opening game, click here.

The president also said his on-field performance was nothing like his warm-up. Watching a replay of his pitch, he said: “This is heartbreaking right here — released it a little high, a little early.”

“What breaks your heart on these is, you know, you’re down there practicing, I was throwing the punch, throwing strikes, heat. Come out here, the thing slips out of your hand, you know, it’s heartbreaking. If I had a whole inning, I’m telling you, I’d clean up.”

Mr. Obama today became the 13th president to throw out an Opening Day ceremonial pitch, 100 years to the month after President William Howard Taft started the tradition.

This was the third time a sitting president has thrown out the first pitch since the Nationals moved to Washington, with President George W. Bush taking the mound in the team’s first season at RFK Stadium in 2005 and its first year at Nationals Park in 2008.

With increased security in place for the presidential visit, the sellout crowd had to go through airport-style metal detectors to get into the park, and bomb-sniffing dogs were out front checking media members’ cameras and equipment.

Despite warnings of long lines, some fans reported only short waiting times to enter the stadium.

“It took eight minutes to get through,” said Eric Parker of Arlington, who said he entered through the park’s centerfield gate about 45 minutes before game time. “I have my camera bag, and just did what I would do at the Capitol or Reagan National.”

Long lines still were coming down Half Street Southeast from the Navy Yard Metro stop and streaming into the stadium as opening ceremonies were taking place on the field.

The president has had a difficult time at the plate. In July 2009, Mr. Obama, wearing a White Sox warm-up jacket and blue jeans and throwing from the top of the mound, threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Major League All-Star Game.

It didn’t bounce in the dirt, but only because catcher Albert Pujols scooted up and reached far out to snag the pitch.

The pitch was not nearly as impressive as the one thrown by Mr. Bush during the 2001 World Series. Coming just weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Bush strode to the mound to a thunderous cheer, wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with “FDNY,” a tribute to the New York City Fire Department.

He fired a fastball dead in the strike zone. The crowd cheered even louder.

As a candidate, Mr. Obama stepped in it when he said Chicago Cubs fans were “not serious.” His exact words: ”The Cubs … they’re nice. You go to Wrigley Field, you have a beer … there are beautiful people out there, people aren’t watching the game.

”That’s not serious,” said Mr. Obama, who lived in Chicago. ”White Sox, that’s baseball … South Side.”

• Ted Starkey can be reached at tstarkey@washingtontimes.com.old.

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