Ceremonial First Pitch

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please direct your attention to the area in front of the pitcher’s mound, for tonight’s ceremonial first pitch. Please welcome, the President of the United States.”

George W. Bush steps out of the bullpen and stands on the pitcher’s mound in Yankee Stadium. It’s October 30th, 2001, 49 days after 9/11. The Yankees are playing game three of the World Series. Bush’s security team roams the crowd looking for anything suspicious. In the stands hangs a hand-painted sign reading “USA FEARS NOBODY PLAY BALL”. On the United Airlines Pre-Game Show, the cameras are tight on George. W.’s face. He looks poised. Under his jacket, he’s wearing a bulletproof vest. He pulls a baseball out of his pocket and, the moment we’ve all been waiting for, throws it towards home-plate. Watching in 2014, you’d expect a monumental flop, especially if you have (as I had) gotten to this video through YouTubing every other celebrity choke on their pitch. The odds are against him. Unlike most ceremonial pitches, where the guest pitcher shortens the pitch by throwing from the grass, George is taking his from the mound. I imagined George’s ball rolling to a stop on the grass, short of the plate, while a “Mission Accomplished” banner drops from the sky behind him.  But this pitch doesn’t fall short. It flies right through the strike zone, the catcher doesn’t even have to move his glove. And like an action star walking away from the car explosion behind him, Bush doesn’t really watch the pitch. He knew he nailed it. He’s already leaving the mound before it reaches the catcher’s glove. The crowd cheers. Bush shakes a few hands, takes a photo with some Yankees, walks back into the bullpen joining his bodyguards, waving to the crowd, as they erupt in chant: “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!”

It was a different era.

The rest of his presidency would throw Bush a few curveballs. He wouldn’t win his second term as much as he‘d walk to first, and pretty much stay there the whole time – politics or baseball, there’s a lot of talk, not much happens. Commentators would fill the hours of nothing with speculation and instant replays. Oh, the replays! Bush’s highlight reel is longer than any other president’s, but there are no home-runs. Most of the footage consists of a stacked team of late-night comedians in the field catching everything that comes off his bat.  I really hope that George Sr. was in the audience or tuned in at home that night, because if I was him this might be the proudest I’d ever be of my son. Look at him, he’s taken over the family business and so far so good, his approval ratings are the highest of any President, snatching the record from none other than his old man. Not only that, the kid can, even with the eyes of an entire nation on him, sling a mean ball. Take that Bin Laden, my boy’s a champ. A helluva pitch. That night Bush’s approval rating was 88% and would never be as high again. Seven years later, he’d be at 25%.

Before we get off on false pretenses, I know little about sports, and less about politics. Ask me who’s pitched in Yankee Stadium and I’ll only come up with one name: George W. Bush. But, ask me who I am, and I’ll probably tell you I’m an athlete: middle-distance runner for the University of Victoria Vikes, member of Team House™. Sport consumes most of my life. While my life is filled with sports highlights, when it comes to big public events George’s pitch is one of my favourites. It’s absurdity makes me laugh – has any other ceremonial first pitch been this important? Why does it feel like if Bush botched the pitch, the terrorists would have won? I love both the irony watching the pitch now, and the pitch itself. I’m thinking about taking the baseball that I massage my calves with, walking across the street to the park, and throwing it at a tree sixty feet, six inches away, just to see if I could hit the mark like Ol’ Georgey can. Not trying to brag, but yeah, I nailed that trunk square in the nose with my flaming fastball, after what we’ll call two “warm-up” throws.

So that’s the ceremonial first pitch, now on with the game: this blog. The game will adhere to no rules. We might stop playing after the fifth inning (hell, we haven’t even made it to the first yet). Bring your own peanuts if you want ‘em, because in the stands we’re only dishing out cookies to your web browser. The game will morph with each iteration. There will be long intermissions between periods. Who knows what it’s really about. Supposedly, it will have something to do with sports. Now how do you start a ball game? Is there a coin toss? Rock, paper, scissors? Does the umpire say “Pitcher, you may now throw the hard white ball with the intention of it traveling through this arbitrary rectangle, in a way that this person, the batter, standing here with a stick, judging whether or not it will pass through the aforementioned rectangle, will not be able to hit it.”? Awh screw it, can somebody hand me a gun? Thanks. On your marks, BANG! And we’re off…

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One thought on “Ceremonial First Pitch

  1. Mr. Peterson, my father was an NYPD officer for 26 years and was working on 9.11. He doesnt talk about it much, but his favorite picture of all time is this picture you have in this blog. Could you please email me and tell me where you got it? Or if you have the rights to it? My siblings and I would like to buy it for him and blow it up for him to put in his office. Please let me know. I would really appreciate it. kathrynkgill@gmail.com

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