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Joe Biden takes on George Bush in baseball openers

April 6, 2009 | 11:44 am

BushryanIt is already being billed as the rookie versus the retired veteran, but in a political twist, the rookie is older.

Welcome to Opening Day 2009 with Vice President  Joe Biden, no slouch at political pitching, prepared to toss out the first ball before the Baltimore Orioles game this afternoon, as our friends at the Swamp are also noticing.

Meanwhile, in Texas, former President George Bush made a rare public appearance to take the mound and toss one for the Gipper.

No, wait, wrong sports metaphor despite similar politics.

George Bush tossed the opening pitch for the Texas Rangers, the team he ran before his political career took off. He followed in the footsteps of his father, another former President Bush, who was vice president to Ronald Reagan, who played the Gipper, an ill-fated college football player, in the movies.

Sports, politics and entertainment have always been a heady brew, much like the beer that has kept many a fan afloat in the summer heat. But the opening day tradition of getting a prominent politician, like the president, to throw out the first pitch has a powerful attraction for the sport that bills itself as America’s past-time.

President Obama, of course, is traveling in Europe and will miss today’s opener. (Don’t be surprised, however, if Obama, whose game is basketball, gets his shot to throw out the first ball for the Washington Nationals when they hold their home opener next Monday against the champion Philadelphia Phillies.)

So it falls to surrogate Biden, 65, to take the mound before the Orioles play the Yankees in Camden Yards in Baltimore. No stranger to ceremony in his decades in politics, Biden will become the first sitting vice president to do the honors, the baseball club says.

Meanwhile, in Arlington, Texas, Bush, 62,  threw out the first pitch, making a rare public appearance before the Rangers took on the Cleveland Indians. Before he was elected governor, Bush was managing general partner of the Rangers from 1989 to '94.

With that kind of history, Bush is the Cy Young of the politician-pitching bullpen, having tossed seven opening day balls while in office, which seems to be some sort of record. Bush again is following in his father’s footsteps. The elder Bush...

...threw out the first pitch for the Rangers on April 8, 1991, and, as former president, on April 3, 2000.

Among his accomplishments, the younger Bush was there on the first day in a new stadium in Milwaukee (2001) and in Washington (2008). It was Milwaukee that is among the most memorable, a one-hopper that led to the famous comment by the Brewers' starting pitcher: “I wish he would have made it to the plate at least.”

Despite that misadventure, the worst political baseball ever thrown is generally credited to Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory, whose 2007 toss made a beeline to his first-base side, going so wide west of home that many people figured he was aiming for California. Mallory later insisted he had been practicing for his appearance and blamed the erratic heave on conflicting advice from former professional athletes.

Still, even such a poor showing prompted pride in some sort of accomplishment. In an interview with late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel, Mallory boasted that the throw was the worst pitch "in the history of the universe."

Politicians and baseball players can always find something to proud of.

-- Michael Muskal

Former President George W. Bush throws the season opening first pitch before the baseball game between the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers in Arlington, Texas, Monday, April 6, 2009. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

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