In-game ceremonies for professional sports games are usually forgettable, at best. Do they even play the Super Bowl anymore? It's hard to tell between the pre-game concert, the halftime concert, and the on-field postgame ceremony. Whatever.
Major League Baseball, to its credit, has been something of an exception. I have particularly fond memories of the 1999 All-Star Game, which was played at Fenway Park. It featured an honor roll of the game's great players from history, capped off by Ted Williams riding in the toss the first pitch. Watching the day's professional players crowd around Williams, like a bunch of little kids, was priceless.
Tonight's ceremony struck a different tone: With taped messages from the five living presidents, the league saluted thirty volunteers, one for each team's home community. Afterwards, the players mingled with them and waited to shake their hands--perhaps not with the same awe they'd treated Williams back in 1999, but with a show of respect that was actually a bit moving.
The game is being held in St. Louis, another great baseball city, so MLB then brought out a host of Cardinal greats. At the end, 88-year-old Stan Musial rode in to deliver the ball for the first pitch. The recipient, of course, was President Obama.
Did Obama's pitch clear the plate? I wish I knew for sure. Fox's camera angle showed the relase and early trajectory, but cut off when the ball reached the plate. The pitch looked headed in the right direction, but it was a bit slow and had some arc. Maybe a change-up? Or slow-breaking 12-to-6 curve? Or just a bad toss?
I checked Twitter and the accounts differ: Some say he hit the plate, others that he just missed. (Check for yourself by searching "Obama pitch.")
But one observation rang true to me: The NL might have been better off starting Obama instead of Giant pitcher Tim Linecum, who gave up several hits and put the NL in a two-run hole.
Update: Obama is in the Fox booth now, playing guest announcer, and they just showed the pitch from another angle. It went straight down the middle but fell just short of the plate, though Albert Pujols rescued it before it hit dirt. Still, Bill Simmons (ESPN's Sports Guy) offers some important perspective, via his Twitter account: "Please don't blame the Prez for throwing a lousy first pitch. He was wearing a bulletproof vest the size of Dustin Pedroia."