When President George Walker Bush threw out the first pitch at that most hallowed of baseball cathedrals—Yankee Stadium—on October 30, 2001, the eyes of the world focused on him. The setting was Game 3 of the World Series between the New York Yankees and the Arizona Diamondbacks, just a few weeks after the blindsiding 9/11 attacks and just a few miles from Ground Zero in downtown Manhattan. It was a surreal moment that demanded an elevation beyond ceremony.
President Bush threw a perfect strike. And a tactical one, as well.
It was a symbolic act showing the world that America would neither be intimidated nor dissuaded. Not by terrorists. Not by wartime. And the baseball setting was appropriate as a step toward healing.
In the movie Field of Dreams, James Earl Jones captured the essence of baseball’s connection to the country: “America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again.”
A former owner of the Texas Rangers, President Bush had a tangible connection to the National Pastime. Other presidents also enjoyed a genuine nexus to baseball.
President George Herbert Walker Bush—George W. Bush’s father—played on the Yale baseball team. As president, he went to an Orioles game with Queen Elizabeth in a gesture of social diplomacy.
President Taft unknowingly invented the 7th inning stretch when he rose from his seat during a game.
Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon threw out first balls from their box seats for the hometown Washington Senators.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt perpetuated baseball during World War II. With the country absorbed in the daily actions of American forces in Europe, North Africa, and the South Pacific during World War II, Major League Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis wrote a letter dated January 14, 1942 to President Roosevelt inquiring about continuing the leagues’ operations during the crisis.
FDR responded the next day. He gave Landis a green light to continue baseball for morale: “I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before.”
Baseball suffered a drain of its players, however. Ted Williams, Hank Greenberg, and Stan Musial reported for duty along with more than 500 other players.
A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 30, 2013.
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