Clinton visits both clubhouses before game

Updated: August 12, 2003, 11:51 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Even with Barry Bonds in the ballpark, President Bill Clinton was the biggest hit at Shea Stadium on Tuesday night.

Clinton stayed all nine innings and watched the New York Mets' 5-4 victory over the San Francisco Giants. He visited both clubhouses before the game, signed baseballs and shook hands with dozens of fans.

"I'm a baseball nut, what can I say?'' said Clinton, flanked by several Secret Service agents.

It was Clinton's first visit to Shea since Jackie Robinson Night on April 15, 1997, when the Mets honored the man who broke baseball's color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers 50 years earlier. Robinson's No. 42 was retired by every team in the majors.

Clinton, looking trimmer than during his days in the White House from 1992-2000, smiled as he greeted fans up the first- and third-base lines and behind the plate. He looked ever the politician, offering a few thumbs-up and waves to fans yelling out his name.

"I really enjoy this,'' Clinton said with a big grin.

Clinton, dressed in a dark green polo shirt and olive slacks, stopped by the Giants' clubhouse and talked with Bonds for a few minutes before going back onto the field.

He watched the Mets take batting practice from behind the hitting cage, and talked with New York manager Art Howe and a number of players.

Clinton also spent a few minutes chatting with Hall of Fame basketball coach Lou Carnesecca, who was at the game as St. John's honored three alumni -- Mets reliever John Franco, Mets third-base coach Matt Galante and Giants shortstop Rich Aurilia.

Clinton then made his way to the Mets' clubhouse and surveyed the scene.

"Everybody's drinking these smoothies these days,'' Clinton said, pointing to a small refrigerator that contained bottles of water, fruit juices and other refreshments for the players.

The president went to the players' dining room and chatted with a few Mets, including left-hander Al Leiter, and took pictures with them.

"He is fascinated by politics,'' Clinton said of Leiter. "He asked me a lot of questions. He's certainly competitive and inquisitive. I respect guys that like to ask questions.''

Leiter said he enjoyed the visit from Clinton.

"It was fun,'' Leiter said. "I might not necessarily agree with all of his political views, but that's OK.''

Clinton then made his way past reporters and through the clubhouse, briefly reflecting on some baseball memories. He grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan, mainly because it was the closest major league team to his home state of Arkansas.

"I remember I was 6 years old when I saw my first game,'' Clinton recalled. "My stepfather took me on the train from Arkansas to St. Louis. When I got there, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.''

Clinton, who watched the first few innings from the Mets' radio and TV booths, said he's kept tabs on this major league season and even weighed in on the AL East race.

"Boston is playing real good, but the Yankees are so tough to beat,'' Clinton said. "We've just had a lot of good baseball this year.''

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press