President Barack Obama was true to his word: He didn’t bounce it.
Obama’s ceremonial first pitch at the All-Star game barely reached the plate Tuesday night. St. Louis Cardinals star Albert Pujols helped the president, moving up on the plate and reaching out to scoop the low toss.
Obama had warmed up on the White House grounds Monday night, and was determined his pitch would get there on a fly.
“We did a little practicing in the Rose Garden,” he said during a half-inning with the FOX broadcasters. “This is as much fun as I’ve had in quite some time.”
Wearing a Chicago White Sox jacket, jeans and sneakers, and cheered by the sellout crowd at Busch Stadium, Obama walked out of the National League’s dugout on the first-base side, shook hands with Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan Musial and trotted to the mound.
From right on the rubber, 60 feet and 6 inches away, Obama wound up and bit his lip as he let go. The left-hander grimaced slightly, and gave a fist pump when Pujols — a Gold Glove first baseman — made the neat grab with a specially made black mitt with “Obama ‥44” and an American flag on it.
Obama became the latest Chicago hoopster to try his hand at baseball. Like Michael Jordan, the president looked more natural in his other job.
“I did not play organized baseball when I was a kid and so, you know, I think some of these natural moves aren’t so natural to me,” Obama said.
The All-Star game capped off a big sports outing for the president. He began the day by greeting Wimbledon champion Serena Williams at the White House, then picked up Hall of Famer Willie Mays in Michigan for the flight to St. Louis.
Asked what advice he gave Obama, the Say Hey Kid said: “Follow through.”
“He’ll be fine. I guarantee it,” Mays said aboard Air Force One.
This was the second time Obama threw out a first ball at a big league game. As a U.S. senator, he did it when his favorite White Sox played the Angels in the 2005 AL championship series.
“When you’re a senator, they show you no respect so they just hand you the ball. You don’t get a chance to warm up,” Obama said. “Here, at least they had me down with Pujols in the batting cage, practicing a little bit.”
Obama’s motorcade left the ballpark in the bottom of the fourth inning, and he was due back at the White House shortly after midnight EDT.
After landing in St. Louis, Mays and Obama walked off the plane arm-in-arm, and headed to the ballpark.
Obama first visited the NL’s clubhouse. Known for trash talking on the basketball court, he saved a little bit for the locker room.
After greeting Pujols, the most fearsome slugger in the majors, Obama went over to Milwaukee star Prince Fielder, who won Monday night’s Home Run Derby.
Pointing at Fielder, the president said, “Hey Albert, what happened, this guy, man — in your home park? What’s going on, man?”
Obama left that side with a souvenir, too. Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino, like Obama from Hawaii, gave the president some macadamia nuts.
NL starting pitcher Tim Lincecum enjoyed meeting Obama.
“He signed a baseball for me and shook my hand, and just went around saying hi to the various guys in the clubhouse, and expressed his love for the White Sox, I guess,” he said.
Next stop was the AL clubhouse, where he jibed Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter for being so old and signed an autograph for Seattle outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. A White Sox fan, Obama was glad to see pitcheMark Buehrle, the only representative from the president’s favorite team.
Hours earlier, Buehrle was asked whether he thought Obama realized the White Sox only sent one player to St. Louis.
“I’m not sure he knows that. He’s got other things to care about,” Buehrle said then.
Obama and former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter joined together for a seven-minute video about community service shown on the scoreboard at Busch Stadium and Fox.
George W. Bush was noted for his particularly impressive first-ball throws. Then again, baseball was in his background as the former owner of the Texas Rangers.
Earlier Tuesday, Obama talked about his upcoming pitch.
“You know, my general strategy the last time I threw a pitch was at the American League Championship Series and I just wanted to keep it high. Now, there was no clock on it, I don’t know how fast it went — but if it exceeded 30 miles per hour, I’d be surprised. But it did clear the plate,” he said.
Like at that playoff game, Obama got the job done. It probably helped, too, that he practiced Monday night on the White House grounds with personal aide Reggie Love.
Baseball commissioner Bud Selig had invited Obama to the game.
“It’s a big thing. The players will enjoy it. The fans will enjoy it. But it’s another testament to the meaning of this sport,” Selig said earlier Tuesday.
“We are a social institution and whether we want to admit it or not, and for years I don’t think baseball wanted to admit that, we do have enormous social responsibility, and clearly that intrigued the White House and the president.”