April 5th, 2010
02:14 PM ET
10 years ago

Obama throws out first pitch at Nationals home opener

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/04/05/art.obama.pitch.gi.jpg caption ="President Obama threw out the first pitch Monday at the Washington Nationals' home opener."]Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama continued a century-old baseball tradition among the nation's chief executives Monday, throwing the ceremonial first pitch at the Washington Nationals' home opener against the Philadelphia Phillies.

The southpaw president took the mound at a packed ballpark shortly after 1 p.m., tossing a pitch that flew high and outside.

Obama wore a Nationals jacket, but also donned a cap from his favorite hometown team, the Chicago White Sox.

Presidential William Howard Taft started the tradition on Opening Day of the 1910 season. The Washington Nationals defeated the Philadelphia Athletics that day, 3-0. Eventual Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson threw a one-hitter.

"Washington has been the historic place for presidential first pitches," said John Odell, curator of history and research at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

When there was no baseball team in Washington, presidents sometimes went to other places such as Baltimore, Maryland, or Cincinnati, Ohio, long host to the first baseball game each season.

"President Nixon went to his home state of California," Odell noted.

Presidential pitching styles can vary, with some better than others.

"President Dwight Eisenhower may have been the best," Odell said. "It was rumored he played for a semi-pro team while at West Point."

When members of the White House press corps asked questions, Odell said, "they were told not to look into it any further."

Presidents Harry Truman and Gerald Ford threw out first pitches both right- and left-handed. Odell said President George W. Bush "had particularly good form."

Presidents have not always thrown the first pitch from the mound. In fact, that tradition didn't start until recently. It used to be that a first toss was thrown from the box seats, as Taft did in 1910.

Although this tradition goes back a century, sometimes a president can't make Opening Day because he's just too busy. In 1912, Taft couldn't throw out the first pitch because the Titanic had just sunk.

"President Franklin D. Roosevelt made it a regular habit during his early years in office," Odell said, "but during the war years, he didn't."

Many times, when the president is otherwise engaged, he sends the vice president or a member of his Cabinet. President Jimmy Carter never threw out an Opening Day pitch while he was in office, Odell said. "Carter once told a friend the demands of the White House and the presidency were too busy, by coincidence, during those times."

Carter later threw the first pitch for a World Series game after he was out of office.

"A first pitch says a lot about how a president ought to behave," Odell said. "We want him to take the job seriously but not so seriously that he can't take a few hours to come out and be a regular guy like the rest of us and enjoy our national pastime."

As for Obama, he has a history of throwing out first pitches. He did it at a Chicago White Sox game in 2005, while he was a U.S. senator, and again at last year's All-Star game in St. Louis, Missouri.

–CNN's Bill Caiaccio contributed to this report

Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Deborah

    I just love this president!

    April 5, 2010 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  2. Tim

    His baseball and his governing have a lot in common. You can tell he has done neither one in the past.

    I have never seen a self-professed sports geek throw like this before in my life (well, except for when he threw out the first pitch at last year's allstar game). Obvioulsy, he feels no shame. He holds himself out to be a great athelete, and he holds himself out to be a great leader.

    You decide.

    April 5, 2010 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  3. Tim

    His hometown is not Chicago. Don't insult us.

    April 5, 2010 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  4. Mike

    Reminded me of an Eephus pitch from the 1940's!

    April 5, 2010 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  5. Dick Lepre

    If it is a ceremonial 1st pitch and there is no batter what the heck does "outside" mean?

    April 5, 2010 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  6. Rob

    He was booed, loudly. Funny, every time Bush got booed ANYWHERE it was a headline.

    April 5, 2010 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  7. Keith in Austin

    Throws like a girl and spends money like a crack addict on steroids!

    April 5, 2010 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  8. Save America, impeach the treasonous republicans

    At least he doesn't throw like the limp wristed cheerleader who occupied the white house from 2001-2008.

    April 5, 2010 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  9. Doc SteveO

    He doesn't throw like a girl. He's just a southpaw and photos of that always look unusual or sometimes goofy.

    April 5, 2010 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  10. Ron in California

    He should stick to basketball. He throws like a girl.

    April 5, 2010 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  11. Michael from Ventura

    Looking good Mr. President! Play bal!!

    April 5, 2010 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  12. Steph

    But was he wearing his "mom jeans" again? BTW, I love the Sox cap!

    April 5, 2010 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  13. awaitingliberalizationbyCNN

    Did he apologize to the Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays for the previous administration fulfilling its constitutional duties and promise that he wouldn't. At least all of those hot dog vendors have jobs and I am sure he credited it to the stimulus program and health care and told the crowd he would not quit. Did it take 17 minutes, 2500 words and still not provide an answer like when he was asked the question about the additional tax burden his health care reform bill would place on the American people while he was in North Carolina?

    April 5, 2010 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    Preston kathy i bet it was a perfect pitch right in the strike zone

    April 5, 2010 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  15. Sniffit

    Here's a freebie for you GOPers:

    It's funny that he can't throw very well, but he sure can make a pitch!

    har har har

    See? That's called humor. Smile once in a while (it'll unclench your ayniss).

    April 5, 2010 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  16. Mark

    I support Obama but watching him through out a first pitch is just painful. I'm not sure if it's because he is a left hander or just that he's awkward. Too bad they don't have like a first jump ball in basketball.

    April 5, 2010 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  17. Michael M. Noonan

    My God, we don't even escape this guy during the Final Four. Watching him play horse! Please leave us alone, you fatuous egoist.

    April 5, 2010 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  18. Michael M. Noonan

    If that's humor, Sniffit, you are a dull man indeed.

    April 5, 2010 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  19. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Thank God I didn't vote for President Obama to play ball because he has proven himself to be a superior President than a ball player.

    April 5, 2010 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  20. Michael M. Noonan

    Deborah, I have a feeling you love a lot of things that are bad for you.

    April 5, 2010 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  21. montag

    Before you fault any president's throwing arm, please consider that it is very difficult to throw a baseball (or anything else) when you're waering a bullet-proof vest.

    For God's sake, cut Obama a little slack, will you?

    April 5, 2010 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  22. JPB

    GWB's perfect strike to open the World Series in NYC after 9/11 is the all-time great presidential sports moment. Will be hard to beat that one.

    April 5, 2010 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  23. Stacie

    Yay! Baseball season, spring weather, a stock market nearing 11,000 and the first month of positive job growth since Nov. 2008. Yes, even if you remove the census jobs, we still gained over 100,000 private sector jobs. This is all good news so all you doomsday obstructionist tea-baggers can either enjoy the improvements or leave this wonderful country.

    I'm so sorry the country isn't failing the way you wanted it to. Ha! Ha!

    April 5, 2010 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  24. Navy Vet

    Well at least he didn't throw underhand like Bush.

    April 5, 2010 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  25. Bedtime for Obonzo

    "Here's the pitch...and it's a hard slider to the left, in the dirt!

    April 5, 2010 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
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