President marks White House tee-ball’s opening day

By Alex Kingsbury
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
May 7, 2001

The south lawn of the White House was transformed into a pint-sized field of dreams Sunday, as President Bush welcomed tee-ballers to the mansion for a day of heroes, hot dogs and hardball.

Bush welcomed two tee-ball teams from the Washington, D.C., area to “the people’s house” for an afternoon game. The president also welcomed all-star Boston Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, mascot “the San Diego Chicken,” and NBC sports commentator Bob Costas, who called the play-by-play.

Bush, a former tee-baller and collegiate pitcher, noted that the only difference between Garciaparra and himself was that, “I peaked and he didn’t.”

“Tee-ball on the South Lawn,” was an event organized by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in an effort by the president to both ingratiate himself with his new neighbors in Washington, D.C., and as part of a larger effort to revitalize baseball as America’s national pastime. Sunday’s game was the first in a series of games that the White House has planned.

According to a White House statement, “the president hopes that this initiative spurs interest in baseball and will help promote America’s national pastime to people of all ages.”

“Let’s play ball,” said Bush as he placed the ceremonial “first pitch” ball atop the plastic tee to open the game.

Returning from a weekend stay at Camp David, Bush landed on the South Lawn in the presidential helicopter to a large crowd of players and parents. He ducked inside the mansion for only a few minutes to change clothes before presiding over the heated contest.

Bleachers were erected to house nearly 350 fans that turned out to watch the Satchel Paige Memphis Red Sox take on the Capitol City Rockies in a spirited game.

“I am thankful that I got to meet the president and play at his house,” said Brittany Brooks, a second grader on the Memphis Red Sox. “Nobody has ever got to play at the White House before.”

Brooks, who had a hit in the game, proudly held a hat that the president signed for her.

“I won’t wash it ever,” she said.

The game had several tense moments when Dan Allen from the Capitol City Rockies snagged a line drive in right field to prevent a run from scoring.

All the players in Sunday’s game were given a ball signed by the commander in chief.

“They were focused on the job at hand,” said Quintin Thomas, Sr., the manager for the Memphis Red Sox. “Once the game got started it was just like any other game.”

Thomas said that the game would provide the players with lasting memories.

“When they go home they will look at the ball and say, ‘wow I played for the president,'” he said.

Tee-ball, a miniature version of baseball, is an entry-level, co-ed game designed to give players the basic skills including running, fielding and hitting. No score was kept and each player was given a turn at bat. The field was constructed on the South Lawn away from the cameras and peering eyes of tourists by a screen of foliage and machine gun-toting White House security. The area also plays host to the annual Easter Egg roll. Parents and players were treated to a game and cookout with hot dogs and hamburgers.

The president said that he hopes the games will become a White House tradition and the next game will take place early this summer.

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