Donald Trump and the Ceremonial First Pitch

(Stephen J. Carrera/AP)

In Washington DC, nothing is very far from politics. For all that sports teams try, they can never quite separate themselves from political life. From the Redskins name and logo controversy to the stadiums named after political figures, the two are never far apart in the nation’s capital.

Nothing quite represents the unity of sports and politics like sitting-Presidents throwing out first pitches for the Washington baseball team. It’s a tradition that has been around since William Howard Taft in 1910 threw out the first pitch for the Washington Senators, and has continued for over 100 years. Since Taft, nine of the next ten presidents have thrown pitches in their first year on the job. Harry Truman was the lone exception, yet he threw a first pitch in DC in each of his next seven years.

When the Nationals returned to Washington in 2005, George Bush picked up the tradition on Opening Day in RFK stadium. While Barack Obama did not throw out the first pitch in 2009 after his inauguration, the Nationals did offer to have him throw it. Obama chose to instead wait for 2010, the 100 year anniversary of Taft throwing the first ceremonial pitch by a President in DC history. Now, 13 presidents have thrown an Opening Day first pitch, and for a Washington ball club 47 times total.

Bush throwing the first pitch in 2008 (UPI)

Following the 107-year-old tradition, the Nationals extended an invitation to President Trump for the honor to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park. In a statement from the Nationals, they made it clear that an invitation was indeed extended, yet President Trump was unable to join due to a ‘scheduling conflict’ which was the official reason that the President could not accept the invitation.

The White House has announced that President Trump will not be joining us on Opening Day due to a scheduling conflict. As all of you know, inviting the President is a 100-plus year tradition here in Washington baseball. It began with the Senators back in 1910 and when baseball came back to Washington the Nats continued that tradition.

If  this in fact happened, it could have perhaps been one of the most controversial ceremonial first pitches in recent memory. The current political climate, with all of it’s divisions and anger, has seeped it’s way not only into the sport, but into Nationals baseball. Many Nats fans were angered by the fact that President Trump would be throwing a pitch from the mound that Stephen Strasburg would be occupying a few minutes later.

Which brings us to the baseball part of this piece. While almost all D.C. residents did not vote for Trump (95.9 percent voted for the other candidates, after all), many National fans remember vividly, Donald Trump had some choice words for the Nationals after they shut down Strasburg in 2012. 

In the end, the tweet storm, as they usually do, did not age well. The other three tweets, consisting of criticizing a manager for going to his closer and not putting in a starter in the ninth inning of an elimination game, as well as saying that they “deserved to lose” because they shut him down, has continually put us Nats fans in a sour mood, politics aside.

Of course, the move to shut down Strasburg drew a lot skepticism at the time. Yet after the Nationals signed Strasburg to a lucrative seven-year extension, the move was appreciated while the tweet was ridiculed. Shutting down a pitcher for their own good? Who ever heard of such a thing, especially when they are one of the faces of the franchise?

Watching a man who ridiculed the Nationals organization throw out the first pitch minutes before a beloved starter gets the call for a third Opening Day may have struck a chord with fans. From from Trump’s low regional (and national) approval ratings, the history of bad blood between the club and the U.S. President, and even the irony of the Opening Day starter, Trump taking the mound would have been quite the spectacle.

Obama in 2009 (UPI)

Alas, Trump will not be continuing the tradition of throwing out the first pitch, at least for now. It would have been a good move, both for the President and the ballclub. A metaphorical burying of the hatchet, putting to rest an issue that really should not have been a big deal in the first place.

It was one thing when Trump was just a businessman, but now as President, the situation is a little more complicated.  Take a short drive out of Lot A, and take a right turn onto South Capitol St. SE and head north and you see the center of politics. Each player and club official and fan who drives that way sees the U.S. Capitol and that is what makes the Washington Nationals different from every other team.

Photo by JDLand

It just goes to prove that politics and DC sports are never more than a baseball’s throw away.

About Michael Daalder

Northwestern University Class of 2021, writing about all things Nationals for Talk Nats, The Medium and ROBaseball.com. Twitter: @Michael_Daalder

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