The Home Opener


New York Mets (4-1) at Washington Nationals (2-5)

Game No. 8: April 11, 1:05 pm; MASN/WDCA, WTWP, XM 183
Brian Bannister (0-0, 4.50) vs. Ramon Ortiz (0-1, 10.80)

Nats.com preview
Mets.com preview
Amazin' Avenue
Yuda.org

This, my friends, is clemency: I was all set to trudge through a "Nats really need innings from the starter" post for the fourth consecutive day---and, while I was at it, also bootstrap in a ridiculously long analysis trying to support my rather idiosyncratic belief that Tuesday's starter, Ramon Ortiz, is something resembling the key to the season. Honestly, though, is Ortiz worth all that effort? Maybe later, but not this time; I rather agree with the opinion of the Anonymous commenter here, who expresses bewilderment and disdain that Ortiz will go to the mound for the Nats' home opener. I suppose it's as simple as the stars aligning to produce such an uninspiring home season standard-bearer.

All of this reminds me that there are more interesting storylines presented in Tuesday's game, such as:

1. the home opener itself; and
2. the prospect of last week's Melee at Shea turning into the Melee at RFK (is that as pathetic as rhyming 'Homer' with 'Homer'?)

One would hope Ortiz and the boys post an inspired effort before an enthusiastic (sell-out?) crowd. The Nats could really use a solid two-out-of-three on this sham of a three-game homestand. Given the rest of the month's schedule, the Nats face a very real prospect of finishing April at 10-17 or 9-18 without playing particularly horrible baseball.

Nat at Bat: Dick Cheney. He's no Charles Dawes, but he'll have to do. If you're going to the game (and our friends at Capital Weather are predicting a beautiful day), be sure not to wear orange . . . ha ha ha.

A few days ago, Ballpark Guys forum denizen Candlestick Parker posed the question of when the first ball (tossed from the box seats) became the first pitch (hurled, with varying degrees of accuracy, from the pitching mound). I found an About.com query-and-response that pegged the evolution at roughly the 1960s or 70s---not surprisingly, a baseball innovation. As to precisely when the change occurred, I cannot really say. This Baseball Almanac page lists various presidential firsts (such as Nixon being the first president to open the season with a first pitch outside of DC) and states somewhat cryptically: President Bill Clinton is the first to throw the first pitch from the pitcher's mound and make it to the catcher. Both the conjunctive and my personal recollection compel me to believe that Clinton was not the first president to throw a first pitch from the mound; certainly, the practice in general was exceedingly common by then. (Didn't Kevin Kline throw out a first pitch from the Camden Yards mound in Dave? That movie was released no more than six months after Clinton did the same thing on the same mound.) In fact, USA Today's Mel Antonen notes that "George H.W. Bush opened the 1989 season at Baltimore with a curveball that bounced to Orioles catcher Mickey Tettleton."

As best as I can tell from this photoessay feature prepared by the White House's website, the practice remained constant for many years, then underwent a rapid evolution since the Reagan administration:

From the box: Taft (originator of the practice), Wilson, Harding (from waaaay up high on the Teapot Dome), Coolidge, FDR, Truman (first southpaw), Ike, JFK (with an Eephus pitch), LBJ (torn labrum?), Nixon (with Teddy Ballgame, left, posing as one of Barker's Beauties), Ford, Carter.

Baseline transitional?: Reagan (just outside the third base line).

Toe that rubber!: Bush41 (if Pierce was our handsomest president, then this was our best ballplayer president---well, except for the bouncing-the-ball-to-Tettleton part), Clinton (looks like a LOOGY to me), and Bush43 (looks like an offspeed pitch; Baghdad Bob called it a ball, for what it's worth).

My conclusion? It looks pretty clear that Reagan and George H.W. Bush transitioned the practice from box to playing field. I think I prefer the box custom, but times change. As best as I can tell, the presidential tradition had fallen about a decade behind the times.

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