President's Pitch Means Baseball's Back

"I'm not a great admirer of Carter," Alexander said, "so I would be inclined to attribute his absences to his being as out of contact with baseball when he was president, as he was with most other things."

Alexander's favorite tale centers on a commander in chief Yogi Berra would have mistakenly called "amphibious."

"Harry Truman was ambidextrous and threw out the first ball in Washington right-handed one year, left-handed the next," Alexander said.

In Good Times and Bad

The relationship between the president of the United States and baseball is not limited to memorable first pitches and entertaining anecdotes. As baseball and the president have been there in good times, both have been there in bad times, too.

During the Civil War, Union and rebel soldiers would separately play games of baseball to pass the time. There are even stories of combating soldiers facing off against each other from time to time in friendly matches.

During World War II, when young American men -- including professional baseball players -- were being sent halfway around the world to fight for freedom, President Roosevelt sent the famous "Green Light Letter" to Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis asking him not to cancel the 1942 Major League Baseball season.

FDR wrote, "As you will, of course, realize the final decision about the baseball season must rest with you and the baseball club owners -- so what I am going to say is solely a personal and not an official point of view. 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."

Perhaps one of the most memorable events involving a president, a first pitch and a country in need was after the 9/11 attacks.

"I don't think there's any question that President Bush's appearance to throw out the first ball for the opening of Game of the 2001 World Series in New York was the most significant event of its kind," Alexander said. "It came about five weeks after 9/11 and had a lot to do with creating a sense of normality in the face of fear and adversity."

Before the Diamondbacks and Yankees took the field that night in the Bronx, Bush walked to the mound, gave the fans and the country a thumb's up, and fired a strike across home plate.

When Bush takes the mound this opening day in Cincinnati, he'll continue the tradition started by Taft and carried on by 15 other presidents. His pitch will signify the start of the season for America's pastime as well as renew a friendship the president has had through the years either as a player, a supporter or a fan of baseball, just like the rest of America.

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