The presidential pitch: Barack Obama throws a bit low with All-Star game’s opening toss

By Ben Walker, AP
Wednesday, July 15, 2009

President Obama goes low with All-Star first pitch

ST. LOUIS — All those warmups in the Rose Garden gave the lanky left-hander just enough oomph.

Fresh from his practice pitches on the White House grounds, President Barack Obama delivered at the All-Star game Tuesday night. Biting his lip for a little extra zip, he fulfilled his modest goal: Flinging the ceremonial first ball to the plate on the fly.

Obama became the latest Chicago hoopster to try his hand at baseball. Like Michael Jordan, the president looked more comfortable in his other job.

“I did not play organized baseball when I was a kid and so, you know, I think some of these natural moves aren’t so natural to me,” Obama said.

St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols helped out the president, moving up to scoop the low toss before it hit the dirt. TV viewers initially wondered whether the presidential pitch skipped.

The FOX television angle cut off Pujols’ catch, and many people at Busch Stadium weren’t completely sure. When Obama later visited the broadcast booth, a replay from the center-field camera showed the ball made it home.

“This is as much fun as I’ve had in quite some time,” he said.

Obama was at ease visiting the teams before the game and during his time on the air. Asked whether there were bailout funds to help end the National League’s losing streak, he cracked, “We’re out of money.”

Obama’s motorcade left the ballpark in the bottom of the fourth inning, and the AL eventually won 4-3 for its seventh straight victory.

The All-Star game capped off a big sports outing for the president. He began the day by greeting Wimbledon champion Serena Williams at the White House, then picked up Hall of Famer Willie Mays in Michigan for the flight to St. Louis.

As for what advice he gave Obama, the Say Hey Kid said: “Follow through.”

“He’ll be fine. I guarantee it,” Mays said aboard Air Force One.

Wearing a Chicago White Sox jacket, jeans and sneakers, and cheered by the sellout crowd, Obama walked out of the NL’s dugout on the first-base side, shook hands with Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan Musial and trotted to the mound.

Obama went right to rubber, all 60 feet and 6 inches away, and let fly. He grimaced slightly, but gave a fist pump when Pujols — a Gold Glove first baseman — made the neat grab with a specially made black mitt with “Obama ‥44″ and an American flag stitched in.

“I scooted up a little bit, but I think I was going to catch it in the air the whole way,” Pujols said. “I was more nervous not to drop the ball, believe me. I wasn’t worried about him bouncing the ball.”

This was the second time Obama made the first pitch at a big league game. As a U.S. senator, he did it when his favorite White Sox played the Angels in the 2005 AL championship series.

“When you’re a senator, they show you no respect so they just hand you the ball. You don’t get a chance to warm up,” Obama said. “Here, at least they had me down with Pujols in the batting cage, practicing a little bit.”

Obama also threw a few pitches Monday night at the White House with personal aide Reggie Love.

At Busch, Obama first visited the NL’s clubhouse. Known for trash talking on the basketball court, he brought a little bit to the locker room.

After greeting Pujols, the most fearsome hitter in the majors, Obama went over to Milwaukee star Prince Fielder, who won Monday night’s Home Run Derby.

Pointing at Fielder, the president said, “Hey Albert, what happened, this guy, man — in your home park? What’s going on, man?”

The president left that side with a souvenir, too. Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino, like Obama from Hawaii, gave him some macadamia nuts.

Next stop was the AL clubhouse, where he gibed Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter for being so old and signed an autograph for Seattle outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. He also chatted with Toronto ace Roy Halladay, the AL’s starting pitcher.

“He asked if I had any tips on throwing the first pitch. I just said, ‘don’t bounce it,’” Halladay said.

A White Sox fan, Obama was glad to see pitcher Mark Buehrle, the only representative from the president’s favorite team.

Buehrle said he didn’t really believe Obama would wear a White Sox jacket to the mound.

“I looked up and I was like, ‘Holy Cow, he’s actually doing it.’ Everybody around me was giving me a hard time saying, ‘What the heck, he’s wearing White Sox stuff.’ That’s how we roll in Chicago, we got the president behind us,” Buehrle said.

Said the president: “Everybody knows I’m a White Sox fan and my wife thinks I look cute in this jacket. Between those two things, why not?”

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