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Apr 4, 2006 10:17 pm

First Pitch Is a Longtime Presidential Perk

For most of the past century, when Washington was home to a baseball team known as the Senators, presidents typically took center stage on Opening Day.

Starting with William Howard Taft in 1910 and continuing through Richard M. Nixon in 1969, every president threw out at least one opening-day pitch. After the Senators left town, presidents headed north to Baltimore for the duty.

When the capital got the Washington Nationals last year, President Bush resumed the tradition, taking the pitcher's mound at RFK Stadium for the team's first home game.

This season, the president threw out the first pitch at the Reds' opener yesterday in Cincinnati. The White House has not said whether Bush will do the honors at the Nationals' home opener next Tuesday.

Over the years, Washington usually started its season a day before the rest of the American League in what became known as the presidential opener. Congress recessed for the day so members could attend.

At the beginning, the president threw the ball to the starting pitcher or even the umpire. Later, from his box in the stands, the chief executive tossed the ball over a scrum of photographers into a crowd of players from both teams. Whoever caught the ball brought it over to the president for an autograph.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed for White Sox outfielder Jim Rivera. According to a report years later by the Chicago Tribune, Rivera immediately demanded a more legible signature. "Do you think I can go into any tavern on Chicago's South Side and really say the president of the United States signed this baseball for me?" Rivera said. "I'd be run off."

Laughing, the young president agreed to sign the ball more legibly....

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