"When you leave the red-hot excitement of the White House it's kind of nice to replace it with something that's also red-hot and exciting and that's the world of sports," says former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Jupiter, Fla., is a long way from the White House, but for Fleischer, think of it as his new office. The St. Louis Cardinals call Jupiter their home for spring training and this year the spotlight of baseball's annual preseason will be shining squarely on Jupiter: Fleischer's biggest client has a brand new gig. And it's hardly an easy one.
Few players in Major League Baseball history have ever fallen from grace faster than Mark McGwire, the former Cardinals slugger who 12 years ago shattered the sport's home-run record, but earlier this year admitted using steroids.
One month after his admission, McGwire today will take the field in Jupiter as the Cardinals'new hitting coach. And as the disgraced superstar returns to the national spotlight, Fleischer will be guiding his every move.
Let's just say the PR man comes prepared. From 2001 to 2003, Fleischer was White House press secretary for President George W. Bush – and it'd be an understatement to say he had his hands full.
First, Fleischer had to contend with the backlash from the controversial Florida recount. Then the September 11 attacks. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The anthrax attacks. And the uproar over the leaked identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.
In May of 2003, with Bush's re-election campaign looming, Fleischer announced he was stepping down from his post to spend time with his family and work in the private sector.
"You just reach a point where you have to look into your heart and know that it's time to go," he told reporters at the time.
The long-time Yankees fan quickly segued to the sports world, starting Ari Fleischer Sports Communications. As the company's Web site points out, "No one faces tougher coverage than sports figures – except for presidents and top government officials."
"When I left the White House I said I was going to do something more relaxing like dismantling live nuclear weapons," jokes Fleischer. "This is definitely more relaxing. The fact is I love them both – I loved the intensity and pressure of the White House, I loved being there, but I love this too."
And, as Fleischer notes, the two jobs are more similar than some people might think.
"There are only two institutions in our society that have their events covered live and have sections in the newspapers dedicated to them – the White House and sports," he says. "That makes them so similar when it comes to how you communicate."
"Because they're athletes or they're teams or they're leagues, their forte isn't necessarily how to communicate, especially when it comes outside the sports page," Fleischer states. "The way they handle the press is tremendously important to how they and their team do. They can enhance their careers or they can shoot themselves in the foot."
High-profile clients soon came onboard for Fleischer's help, including the Sony Ericsson Women's Tennis Association Tour and Major League Baseball.