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Pondering Trump’s future prospects of throwing out first pitches in MLB, NPB

by Wayne Graczyk

What kind of president will Donald Trump be regarding sports?

U.S. presidents have a tradition of throwing out the first ball to open a Major League Baseball season. They are also known for welcoming World Series winners and champion teams from other sports leagues to the White House.

Will Trump be on hand to toss the first pitch at the Washington Nationals 2017 opener on April 3 against the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park? Will he hold a reception for the 2016 World Series champion Chicago Cubs and be presented with a jersey with his name and No. 1 or 45 on the back?

Might he attend a pro baseball game in Japan some day and maybe chuck the ceremonial first pitch on a future visit to the country?

The president-elect has already been invited to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the two Japanese cities devastated by atomic bombings at the end of World War II in 1945. Current president Barack Obama visited Hiroshima on May 27 of this year, but his schedule time was limited, and the hometown team Carp were on the road that day anyway, so there was no chance for Obama to go to a game there.

When Trump comes to Japan, very likely during his presidency, it would be commendable if he could go to Hiroshima and its Peace Park as Obama did and cool if he could attend a Carp game at Mazda Zoom Zoom Stadium.

Past U.S. presidents have appeared at Japanese professional baseball games, but after they left office. Ronald Reagan was a guest at the 1989 Japan Series nine months after his term as president ended in January of that year, and he showed up at Tokyo Dome prior to one of the games.

He greeted managers, coaches and players of the participating teams, the Kintetsu Buffaloes and Yomiuri Giants. Buffs’ American slugger Ralph Bryant said, after shaking hands with Reagan, “It was profound to meet someone who controlled our lives.”

Ex-president George W. Bush threw out the first pitch from the mound before Game 3 of the 2009 Yomiuri Giants-Nippon Ham Fighters Japan Series at Tokyo Dome. He wore a black-and-orange YG jacket while making the toss. Bush had left the office of president on Jan. 20 of that year.

At least one other politician, then-New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman performed a shikyushiki at a Nippon Ham Fighters home game in 2000. At the time, she was being mentioned as a possible vice presidential running mate with Bush in that year’s election.

I don’t recall Bill Clinton getting involved at a Japanese baseball game, but he did have a connection with the Fighters after famed CNN interviewer Larry King brought his program to Tokyo for a week in 1993, just after Clinton assumed the presidency. One of the guests on “Larry King Live” was Nippon Ham American player Matt Winters.

King was given a Fighters jacket by Winters as a souvenir gift, and King subsequently wore the jumper during a meeting with Clinton. The president liked it and mentioned he would like to have one, so the Fighters sent one to the White House in Washington.

Current American U.S Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy has toed the rubber on the pitcher’s mound at Japanese ballparks. She threw the ceremonial first pitch at a Samurai Japan-vs.-MLB All-Stars game at Tokyo Dome in 2014 and at a Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles game in Sendai last year.

Celebrities from the world of American show business have also tried their hands at throwing the first pitch at Japanese games, tossing from the mound to the visiting team’s leadoff batter. Actor Tom Hanks, in Japan in 2009 with film director Ron Howard to promote the local premiere of their movie, “The Da Vinci Code,” donned a Giants cap and thrilled the crowd as he threw a wild one.

“It wasn’t a very good pitch,” Hanks said afterward while wishing he could have another chance to throw a strike. Hanks starred in a popular baseball flick, “A League of Their Own,” in 1992. That story was about the Women’s Professional Baseball League in America during the 1940s, and the character of Rockford Peaches manager Jimmy Dugan, played by Hanks, delivered the unforgettable line, “There’s no crying in baseball.”

Another popular American actor, Richard Gere, went to the mound at an Eagles game in Sendai on July 9, 2009, but offered the first pitch honors to his then 9-year-old son Homer. Gere and his family were in Japan to promote his movie “Hachi,” and they spent time talking with visiting team manager Bobby Valentine of the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Then there was pop singer Mariah Carey. She showed up at Tokyo Dome for a Giants game in 2008 and was invited to throw the first pitch. American pitcher Marc Kroon, then the Yomiuri closer and a fan of Carey, took her under his wing, played catch with her in the bullpen and escorted the diva, clad in a pink top, short shorts and platform high-heel shoes, to the mound for her big moment.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a first-pitch veteran as well, having served as the umpire when former Yomiuri and New York Yankees star Hideki Matsui served up a pre-game pitch to his one-time manager Shigeo Nagashima prior to a Giants game in 2013. Matsui and Nagashima were recognized that day as recipients of Japan’s People’s Honor Award.

According to Wikipedia, former Prime Minister Shigenobu Okuma threw the first pitch to open an American All-Star baseball tour of Japan in 1908, and William Howard Taft was the first American chief executive to throw out a first ball, appearing at the Washington Senators’ 1910 Opening Day at Griffith Stadium.

Since Taft, every American president has thrown a first pitch at least once at a MLB game on Opening Day or at an All-Star or World Series game. Let’s see if President Trump will keep up the tradition.

Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com