Diamonds Are A President's Best Friend

Mark Knoller is a White House Correspondent for CBS News.
No peanuts or Cracker Jack today for President Bush.

He was invited to throw the ceremonial first pitch today at the Washington Nationals home opener against the Florida Marlins. But he declined.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino says "the president loves baseball," but blames "scheduling reasons" for his absence from RFK Stadium today.

Actually, his public schedule didn't look that crowded. He had a meeting about Health Savings Accounts in the morning. And this afternoon, he presented the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy to the football team of the U.S. Naval Academy. The honor goes to the team that accrued the best record among the military service academies.

By not going to today's game, President Bush spares himself the indignity of possibly being booed and jeered as he walks out to the mound. Over the years, it's been a common occurence for presidents taking the field on opening day. I guess baseball fans don't appreciate a politician intruding on their time.

Back in 1992, I remember covering the first President Bush going to the All-Star Game in San Diego. To try to stay on the good side of fans, the White House had the stadium announcer give the president second-billing to a baseball legend.

"Ladies and gentlement, Ted Williams – accompanied by his good friend, George Bush," was the announcement over the public address system.

It didn't help. The stadium crowd of 50,000 still erupted in boos for Mr. Bush, who at the time was running for re-election.

Last year, the White House tried a different ruse and it worked.

Invited to throw the first pitch at the 2006 Reds-Cubs Opener in Cincinnati, Mr. Bush walked to the mound with two wounded veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was also escorted by John Prazynski, whose son Tyler was killed in action in Afghanistan the preceding year. Cheers and applause drowned out the boos.

Since taking office, President Bush has done the ceremonial pitch at opening games in four of the past six years.

My count shows he's been to seven Major League Baseball games as President. He's also attended a couple of Little League contests. And his first year in office, he was in Omaha to watch the NCAA College Baseball World Series.

Mr. Bush has also played host each year to a number of Tee Ball games for the pre-Little League set on the South Lawn of the White House

There's no question he loves baseball. Feel the reverence when he speaks about the game.

"Everyone who loves baseball can remember the first time he saw the inside of a real Major League park with real big league players. It stays with you forever."

At a reception honoring members of the Baseball Hall of Fame back in 2001, Mr. Bush waxed almost poetic about the lure of the baseball diamond.

"The greenness of the grass, the sight of Major Leaguers in uniform, the sound of a big league swing meeting a big league pitch. And when you're a kid and you actually meet one of your baseball heroes or get an autograph on a ball, that's a big deal too. It means a lot."

You can imagine that eight year old George Bush felt that way as a Little Leaguer on the Cubs of Midland, Texas in 1955.

But it can also be said that baseball's been very very good to George Bush. As a co-owner of the Texas Rangers, he parlayed a $600,000 investment into a $15-million windfall.

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.