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Mar 28

Opening Day in Washington “Throwing Out the First Ball”

I’d like to discuss a Washington baseball tradition that, unfortunately, in my opinion, has been lost “in the sands of time.”

The ceremonial first pitch was a long-standing tradition at Griffith Stadium and later at DC (RFK) Stadium in Washington DC. This tradition began in 1910 with President William Howard Taft “throwing out the first ball” to open the major league baseball season.

From that point on, every President of the United States – Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt (except during the “war years” 1942-45), Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower (except in 1959), John F. Kennedy (last opening day at Griffith Stadium – first opening day at DC Stadium), Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon in 1969, participated in this major league baseball tradition in our nation’s capital.

I believe the Washington Senators tradition of opening the major league baseball season was lost once the Washington Senators left Washington to become the Texas Rangers and Washington DC would be without major league baseball until 2005 when President George W. Bush would throw out the first pitch at RFK Stadium marking the return of major league baseball to Washington. In 2008, President Bush would toss out the first ball from the pitcher’s mound at the NEW Nationals Park! However, in seasons past, the President of the United States would “throw out the first ball” to the players gathered in front of the Presidential box and whomever caught the ball would then take the ball to the President for his autograph – a very high honor, indeed, for the lucky player! In our DVD “Around the League 1939-46″ there is color footage of FDR and the ceremonial first pitch at Griffith Stadium – 1940-41. Our website – www.timelessbaseball.com contains the DVD information.

In my opinion, opening day of the major league baseball season was never the same once the Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers. In 1973, President Nixon opened the season at Anaheim Stadium. In 1976, President Gerald Ford at Arlington (Texas) Stadium. 1984 and 1986, President Ronald Reagan at Memorial Stadium (Baltimore). 1988, President Reagan at Wrigley Field in Chicago. 1989, President George H.W. Bush at Memorial Stadium (Baltimore). 1990, President Bush at the Sky Dome in Canada. 1991, President Bush at Arlington (Texas) Stadium. 1992, President Bush at Camden Yards in Baltimore. 1993, President Bill Clinton at Camden Yards. 1994, President Clinton at Jacobs Field in Cleveland. 1996, President Clinton again at Camden Yards. 1997, President Clinton at Shea Stadium (NYC). 1990 President Clinton at Pacific Bell Park in San Francisco. 2001 President George W. Bush at Miller Park in Milwaukee (Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig had the honor of the first pitch, President Bush the second pitch). 2003, former President George H. W. Bush at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati (by the way, Cincinnati is recognized as having the first professional baseball team). 2004, former President Jimmy Carter at PETCO Park in San Diego. 2004, President George W. Bush at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, 2005, President Bush at RFK Stadium (as previously mentioned). 2006, President Bush again at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. 2008. President Bush at Nationals Park in Washington (as previously mentioned) and in 2010, President Barack Obama at Nationals Park celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Presidential Opening Day!

100 years of celebrating the opening of the major league baseball season in Washington DC. Although the Washington Nationals are a National League team, the “original” Washington Senators, an American League team were often referred to as the Nationals (Nats), I would hope that the tradition of “throwing out the first ball” in Washington DC would be restored.

As the son of a former “original Washington Senators player and later a coach with the “expansion” Washington Senators, I’d like to tell you about my opening day experience in Washington. In 1961, President Kennedy would participate in the ceremonial “first pitch” at Griffith Stadium as the “expansion” Washington Senators were playing at Griffith Stadium for the 1961 season – DC (RFK) Stadium was not yet completed.

I had the good fortune to have been given the opportunity to “work out” with the ball club prior to the opening day game. After having taken batting and infield practice, I showered and dressed and was sitting in the Washington dugout by myself, next to the “Presidential Box” awaiting the entrance of President Kennedy. Suddenly I was surrounded by Secret Service agents demanding to know who I was and why was I sitting there! I mentioned that my father was a coach with the ball club and by then, the team was lined up along the first base line. I pointed out my father to one of the agents who went up to my dad and asked my father to come to the dugout in order to identify me!

Needless to say, I had the best seat in the house. I will always remember that 1961 Opening Day in Washington!

This story was originally posted at http://timelessbaseball.com.

Timeless Baseball has DVD ordering information for “Around The League 1939-46″, photos, testimonials and links to other baseball sites in addition to our “blogs” and that “Around The League 1939-46″ was filmed in FULL COLOR and narrated by my father prior to his passing in 1989.  It is an inside look at major league baseball from a ballplayers perspective – what baseball life was really like in the major leagues during the WWII era!