President gets ball to plate on the fly

ST. LOUIS -- Based on his age and his pitching performance, President Barack Obama probably does not have a future in Major League Baseball when he leaves office. Then again, he is left-handed and nearly the same age as Jamie Moyer, so you never know.

"I think he throws harder than Mark Buehrle does, so he's doing all right,'' Minnesota closer Joe Nathan said. "We cracked on Buehrle for that. When he threw the pitch we looked over at Mark and said, 'He throws harder than you do.'"

Wearing a White Sox warm-up jacket and blue jeans and throwing from the top of the mound, Obama tossed the ceremonial first pitch before Tuesday's All-Star Game. It may not have been as impressive as the strike President Bush threw during the 2001 World Series, but at least he didn't bounce it in the dirt.


"That was what, a split he threw?'' Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon said. "He almost spiked it there, which I don't think is very good. If you're throwing out the first pitch, you can't throw it in the dirt.''

Albert Pujols, serving as Obama's catcher, helped the President out with a nice scoop.

"It was in the air the whole way,'' Pujols said, denying that he saved Obama from bouncing the pitch. "I scooted up a little bit, but I think I was going to catch it no matter what. It was a great pitch. I was more nervous to drop the ball, believe me. I wasn't worried about him bouncing the ball.''

Obama told the Fox broadcasters he practiced for his pitch in the White House Rose Garden and again at Busch Stadium. He said he had no preparation when he threw out the first pitch before a White Sox game in the 2005 ALCS.

"When you're a senator, they show you no respect; they just hand you the ball," he said. "You don't get a chance to warm up. Now here, I was with Albert Pujols in the batting cage before the game practicing.''

"He took a couple warm-up tosses in the cage and then he went out there and had a perfect throw,'' Pujols said. "One of the things I told him was the only boos you hear are because of that jacket you're wearing.''

Obama flew to St. Louis with Willie Mays and met briefly with each team before the game, shaking hands as he made his way around each clubhouse. Detroit outfielder Curtis Granderson said the Secret Service told the players not to ask for autographs, but Obama told Ichiro he was a big fan of the Seattle outfielder and asked if he would like one. Ichiro said yes, and Obama signed a baseball for him.

"My idea, when I saw him, was to say, 'What's up?' to him,'' Ichiro said through the Mariners team interpreter. "But I got nervous. You know, he has that kind of aura about him. So I got nervous and I didn't say that to him. I was a little disappointed about that. But I realized after seeing him today that presidents wear jeans, too. So my hope is that our skipper, Don Wakamatsu, was watching that and we can wear jeans on our flights as well.''

Obama is the first president to throw out the first pitch at an All-Star Game since Gerald Ford in 1976, though President George H.W. Bush walked to the mound with Ted Williams for the first pitch at the 1992 game. He showed a high leg kick and a somewhat funky delivery. "He was trying to be deceptive,'' Papelbon said.

"I didn't even know [Obama] was left-handed,'' said Trevor Hoffman, another indication that the National League needs better scouting reports at the All-Star Game. "I thought he did well. I think anytime you do something you're not comfortable doing under these conditions and this stage [it's difficult]. He took the advice of throwing it high and getting it there.''

"I loved it,'' American League manager Joe Maddon said of Obama's appearance. "I'm really impressed by this man's energy. He was just in Russia, Italy, Africa and now St. Louis in a very short period of time. He's had a lot on his plate, too.''

Asked whether he would have liked to have had Obama in his bullpen, Maddon replied quickly, "No. He's good as a president.''

"I thought he would throw harder than that since he likes baseball. But he got it there,'' Chone Figgins said. "Somebody asked whether he had a good curveball and he said, 'If I had a good curveball, I wouldn't be president.'"

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.