U.S. Presidents on Opening Day

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Washington has a mixed history with baseball.

On the one hand, presidents have been drawn to the game, throwing out first pitches and focusing the nation's attention on the annual rite of spring in the capital.

On the other hand, the city endured three decades without a team of its own after the Senators left town. And the Nationals have returned America's favorite pastime to the nation's capital, but they have yet to put together a winning season.


Still, that tradition stretches back more than 100 years, with presidents and at least two vice presidents continuing to lob, throw, or heave the first pitch across the plate -- or at least somewhere in its general vicinity.

Thursday, on Opening Day 2011, the Nationals will play host to the Atlanta Braves. In a break with tradition, President Obama will not be heading to the mound at Nationals Park. A group of three generals and two admirals, each representing a branch of the U.S. military, will throw out the first pitch instead.

Here's a look at Washington baseball history, viewed through the lens of the country's chief executive.


Taft.jpgWilliam Howard Taft began a tradition that extends to the present day when he took the mound in Washington in 1910 and lobbed a ball into the catcher's mitt. Every president since Taft, except Jimmy Carter, has thrown out at least one ceremonial first pitch while in office.


Wilson.jpgWoodrow Wilson threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day in Washington on April 20, 1916. The Senators beat the Yankees, 12-4. The Senators played their home games at Griffith Stadium, near where Howard University Hospital stands today. When World War I began to occupy Wilson's attention, he attended fewer Opening Day ceremonies, missing those from 1917 through 1920.


Harding.jpgWarren Harding, who loved the game and owned a baseball team in Ohio, threw out the first pitch in Washington in 1921. The Senators lost to the Red Sox, 6-3.


Eisenhower.jpgDwight Eisenhower, who played on the junior varsity baseball team at West Point, threw the first pitch on April 18, 1960, with Vice President Richard Nixon (front left) watching. The Senators went on to pummel the Red Sox, 10-1.


JFK.jpg

John F. Kennedy threw out the first pitch at the new D.C. Stadium in April 1961, which was renamed RFK Stadium while Richard Nixon was president.


LBJ.jpgAbout five months after John F. Kennedy's assassination, Lyndon Johnson carried on the presidential tradition of throwing out the first pitch in 1964. Rightie Johnson tossed the ball before a game between the Senators and the Los Angeles Angels. The Angels won, 4-0.


Nixon.jpg

Richard Nixon was the first president to throw out a first pitch in the rechristened Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. The Yankees defeated the Senators, 8-4.


Clinton.jpgWashington didn't have a baseball team for nearly three decades, from 1971 until the Nationals took up residence in 2005. During that hiatus, presidents frequently journeyed the 38 miles north to Baltimore, Md., to throw the ceremonial first pitch for the Orioles, first at Memorial Stadium and later Camden Yards. Bill Clinton threw out the first pitch in 1993 at Camden Yards twhen the Rangers beat the Orioles, 7-4.


George W.jpgGeorge W. Bush was the first sitting president to deliver the Opening Day pitch at the Nationals' new ballpark. Bush has a deep connection to baseball: In 1989, he purchased a stake in the Texas Rangers and took an active role in aspects of club management.


Dick Cheney.jpgVice President Dick Cheney threw out the first pitch for the Nationals' home opener in April 2006. Media reported that the crowd booed the vice president loudly while he was on the pitcher's mound and that security agents stood along the top edge of the stadium.


Obama.jpgPresident Obama, a White Sox fan, threw out the first pitch at last year's Opening Day, when the Nationals played the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies. Obama came under criticism recently for filling out an NCAA basketball bracket for ESPN amid the nuclear crisis and natural disasters in Japan. Critics argued that his spending time on sports was frivolous.

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Michael Catalini is an online editor at National Journal.

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