President to toss first pitch
President Barack Obama will keep alive an ancient tradition by throwing out the ceremonial first pitch when the Washington Nationals host the Phillies at Nationals Park on Monday afternoon. (Only two days away!!) The Chief Executive's popularity has fallen in the wake of his bruising political victory in getting the controversial health care bill passed by Congress, so there is a risk of some boos and catcalls. That's what happened at last year's All Star Game in St. Louis, and it would be a shame if such a spectacle were to take place in Our Nation's Capital.
Back in the days before television, U.S. presidents threw out the first pitch at virtually every Opening Day game in Washington. I may be wrong, but I thought that the first game in Washington every year always took place before any other games had started. In any event, President Taft started the tradition in 1910 at National Park in Washington, one year before it was rebuilt and became Griffith Stadium. There were lapses from 1942 to 1945 during World War II, as President Roosevelt was too busy. President Johnson failed to make it in 1966, as the Vietnam War escalated, and in 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King. After the Washington Senators relocated to Texas in 1972, the tradition faded away, as presidents would lead in the ritual at various ballparks around the country. It became more of a regular event in the late 1980s, once again, but President George W. Bush did not carry on the ceremony for the first two years after the 9/11 attacks. For a complete list, see Wikipedia. (Groan.)
The return of baseball to Washington in 2005 created an opportunity to revert to the old custom of always doing the ceremony in D.C. This following list of Washington home openers and the first-pitch-throwers is taken from my game records:
- Apr. 14, 2005: President Bush; RFK Stadium re-inaugurated. Nats beat D-backs, 5-3.
- Apr. 11, 2006: Vice President Cheney; Mets won, 7-1.
- Apr. 2, 2007: Vice President Cheney; Bush arrived late. Marlins won, 9-2.
- Mar. 30, 2008: President Bush; Nationals Park inaugurated. Nats beat Braves, 3-2.
- Apr. 13, 2009: Obama declined an invitation to throw out first pitch. Phillies won, 9-8.
To summarize, the Nationals have won both home openers when they were playing in a new (or newly inherited) stadium, which happened to be when the president was in attendance, and have lost the other three home openers. It will be interesting to see whether President Obama turns out to be a good luck charm for the Nats. They sure could use one.
Nationals finalize their roster
After a lot of drama, the Nationals named Garrett Mock as their fifth starting pitcher, which meant that Scott Olsen was sent down to the Syracuse minor league club. Olsen was not pleased, and told reporters to talk to his agent. It really wasn't that significant, however, because everyone expects Stephen Strasburg to join the active roster by June, and Chien-Ming Wang may get activated even sooner than that. So at least two of those five pitching slots will be taken by mid-year, presumably. See MLB.com.
Here is how the pitching rotation looks right now:
- Jason Marquis
- John Lannan
- Craig Stammen
- Garrett Mock
- Livan Hernandez*
* Hernandez will not be activated until April 11. Lannan is only one who was also a starting pitcher one year ago. Of the other four, Scott Olsen narrowly lost out to Garrett Mock and is going back to the minors; the promising Jordan Zimmermann is recovering from shoulder surgery and may join the roster by the end of the summer; the once-promising Daniel Cabrera has just been released by the White Sox; and Shairon Martis remains part of the Nationals farm system.
Here is the Opening Day lineup for the Nationals:
- Mike Morgan -- center field
- Willie Harris -- right field
- Ryan Zimmerman -- third base
- Adam Dunn -- first base
- Josh Willingham - left field
- Adam Kennedy -- second base
- Ivan Rodriguez -- catcher
- Ian Desmond - shortstop
- John Lannan -- pitcher
In sum, it's looking very good for the Nationals this year, with excellent batting and at least average quality pitching, overall. Unfortunately, they are in a tough division, and even the Washington Post forecast that they will finish the year in last place in the National League East. We'll see about that!
UPDATE: Bosox beat Nats
Today was the unofficial home opener at Nationals Park, but the visiting Boston Red Sox spoiled the occasion by winning 6-1. Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew got home runs in the first two innings, and the Nats couldn't cope with Tim Wakefield's knuckle balls. Ryan Zimmerman got the only RBI for the Nats. Attendance was 37,312, but that may be inflated by the "Red Sox Nation" phenomenon.
Yankee Stadium: falling
As expected, demolition workers took down Gate Two at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday. Almost every day another section comes crashing to the ground, pulled by a set of steel cables. At this rate, there will be nothing left but rubble by the middle of next week. The link to the video below (taken yesterday) was brought to my attention by Mike Zurawski: