Obama gets first pitch to home plate

Updated: July 15, 2009, 1:01 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

ST. LOUIS -- President Barack Obama was true to his word: He didn't bounce it.

Determined his ceremonial first pitch at the All-Star Game would reach the plate on the fly Tuesday night, Obama delivered -- barely. St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols helped him, moving up to scoop the low toss inches off the dirt.

"We did a little practicing in the Rose Garden," Obama said during a half-inning with the Fox broadcasters. "This is as much fun as I've had in quite some time."

Television viewers, however, were initially left to wonder whether the presidential pitch skipped. The TV angle cut off Pujols' catch, and many people at Busch Stadium weren't completely sure.

[+] EnlargeBarack Obama
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesPresident Barack Obama shakes hands with St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan Musial prior to throwing out the first pitch at the All-Star Game.

When Obama later visited the broadcast booth, Fox showed a replay from the center-field camera that proved the ball made it home in the air.

"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.

Obama was at ease visiting the teams before the game and during his time on the air. Asked whether there were bailout funds to help the National League's losing streak, he cracked, "We're out of money."

Wearing a Chicago White Sox jacket, jeans and sneakers, and cheered by the sellout crowd, Obama walked out of the NL's dugout on the first-base side, shook hands with Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan Musial and trotted to the mound.

Fresh from warming up a day earlier on the White House grounds, Obama went right to rubber, all 60 feet and 6 inches away. The left-hander wound up and bit his lip as he let fly.

Obama grimaced slightly, but 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 comfortable in his other job.

"I scooted up a little bit, but I think I was going to catch it in the air the whole way," Pujols said. "I was more nervous not to drop the ball, believe me. I wasn't worried about him bouncing the ball."

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.

Mays, who started playing baseball when segregation was still widespread, told Obama that he was filled with pride when the nation elected its first black president in November.

"I reminded him that I cried for most of the night in Chicago," said Mays, still emotional as he spoke about that night eight months ago.

"So that tells me all the things I went through, it was for good things," said Mays, who wore an orange-trimmed, black Giants baseball cap with his suit. "So I'm just proud of him, you know. He may be proud of something else. But I'm proud of him, what he stands for."

As for what advice regarding the pitch 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 the AL eventually won 4-3 for its seventh straight victory. He was due back at the White House shortly after midnight ET.

After arriving 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 hitter 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.

Next stop was the AL clubhouse, where he gibed 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 pitcher Mark Buehrle, the only representative from the president's favorite team.

Buehrle said he didn't really believe it when Obama said he would wear a White Sox jacket to the mound.

"I looked up and I was like, 'Holy Cow, he's actually doing it.' Everybody around me was giving me a hard time saying, 'What the heck, he's wearing White Sox stuff.' That's how we roll in Chicago, we got the president behind us," Buehrle said.

Added the president: "Everybody knows I'm a White Sox fan and my wife thinks I look cute in this jacket. Between those two things, why not?"

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.

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."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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