Ceremonial First Pitches

President William Howard Taft was the first U.S. President to throw the ceremonial first pitch at a baseball game. As baseball’s Opening Day nears, we are sharing images from the National Archives of past Presidents, First Ladiesand even a government mascot—and ceremonial pitches.

Every U.S. President from William Howard Taft to John F. Kennedy threw a ceremonial first pitch at Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC, home to the Washington Senators for 50 years. There was even a special Presidential box near the first base dugout for the annual event. In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt attended a Boston Red Sox vs. Washington Senators game at Griffith Stadium and threw out the first pitch.

Roosevelt’s successor, President Harry Truman, who threw left-handed, tossed the first pitch from the Presidential box at Washington’s Griffith Stadium on Opening Day of the 1949 baseball season. It turned out to be a good day for the Washington Senators, who beat the Philadelphia Athletics 3-2.

While John F. Kennedy was the last President to throw the opening pitch at Griffith Stadium, he was also the first President to throw the opening pitch at the new DC Stadium (later renamed in honor of his brother, Robert F. Kennedy). In 1962, JFK threw the Opening Day first pitch at the new expansion team’s game, also named the Senators, vs. the Detroit Tigers.

Beginning in 1971, Major League Baseball took a nearly 35-year hiatus from the nation’s capital, and Presidents traveled to other ballparks around the country to throw out the ceremonial pitches. On April 6, 1973, President Richard Nixon traveled to his home state of California to throw out the first pitch at the California Angels vs. Kansas City Royals baseball game at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California. He is shown standing next to U.S. Air Force Major David Luna, who had spent almost six years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and had just been released during Operation Homecoming on March 4, 1973.

In 1976, President Gerald Ford threw out the first pitch of the Texas Rangers’ baseball game vs. the Minnesota Twins. If you look at the video on YouTube you’ll see the President was actually unhappy with his first attempt, and grabbed a second ball for another try.

A native of Illinois, President Ronald Reagan donned a Chicago Cubs jacket to throw out the first pitch at the Cubs vs. Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game at Wrigley Field in Chicago. To the dismay of the Cubbies’ fans, Pittsburgh won the game by just one run.

Not to be out-pitched by her husband, First Lady Nancy Reagan stood with children wearing shirts and hats with her trademark “Just Say No” slogan, as she threw the first pitch before the LA Dodgers vs. the Oakland Athletics World Series baseball game. It looks like Dodgers’ catcher Mike Scioscia better look out!

Before the New York Yankees vs. Texas Rangers game in Arlington, Texas, on May 4, 1989, First Lady Barbara Bush walked to the pitchers mound with three elementary school children and presented them each with a book as part of the Reading is Fundamental program. After coaxing Rangers catcher Geno Petralli to come a little closer, Bush threw out an excellent first pitch.

President Bill Clinton took the MARC train—the commuter train between Washington and Baltimore—to Camden Yards to throw the first pitch of the Baltimore Orioles vs. the Texas Rangers Opening Day game in 1993. Here the President is shown warming up in order to be ready for his first pitch on the mound.

Since childhood, George W. Bush loved baseball, and even served as a managing partner for the Texas Rangers before becoming President of the United States. In 2006, he became the first sitting President to throw the first pitch at Cincinnati Reds game. He brought no luck to the Reds, however, as they got trounced by the Chicago Cubs 7 to 16 on Opening Day.

First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden, and Yogi Berra looked on as retired Army Captain Tony Odierno threw the first pitch at the beginning of Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium on October 28, 2009. An Iraqi War veteran, Captain Odierno lost his left arm as a result of a grenade.  

Major League baseball returned to DC in 2005, this time as the Washington Nationals. After a short stint at RFK Stadium, the team made its home at Nationals Park. On April 5, 2010, President Barack Obama warmed up before throwing out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day at Nationals Park.

And for a little fun, the U.S. Forest Service mascot threw out the first pitch for the San Diego Padres vs. Montreal Expos game in 1984. It was Smokey Bear Baseball Card Night, and fans could get cards with their favorite Padres players posing with Smokey.

Learn more about sports and our holdings in the exhibit All American: The Power of Sports, which is in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery in Washington, DC, from September 16, 2022, through January 7, 2024.

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