President's Summer Vacation Winding Down

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As a Little Leaguer back in the 1950s, his batting average was "not good enough"--perhaps one factor that kept catcher George W. Bush and the Midland, Texas, Cubs from reaching the World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

But today, Bush gets his shot in the limelight there.

As the first Little Leaguer to become president, he is to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and will throw out the first ball at this year's championship game.

Bush gave a hint of how much those honors might mean to him.

"My favorite childhood memory was playing Little League baseball in Midland, Texas. I loved baseball, still love baseball," he told a group of schoolchildren a few days ago.

During his monthlong "working vacation," President Bush has founded the "100 Degree Club," awarding membership to those who jog three miles with him in the all-embracing 100-degree heat of his home state.

The latest inductee was Josh Bolten, deputy White House chief of staff, who is not a regular runner and predictably got left in the presidential dust one afternoon.

Bush takes great pride in his 7 1/2-minute-per-mile pace. But this Central Texas summer, with a heat index decidedly exceeding the actual temperature, is taking a toll. Bush admitted his pace has slowed "a little."

Still, he is such a stickler for details that he defers any membership-induction runs until the mercury has reached the requisite triple-figure mark.

The president may not enjoy parties all that much, but he nevertheless will be holding two end-of-summer bashes in coming days.

One is an off-the-record picnic at his parched Prairie Chapel Ranch next week for members of the White House press corps, who accompanied him to Texas for the month. The other is a state dinner at the White House in honor of Mexican President Vicente Fox next week.

"It's going to be a majestic event," Bush said the other day.

Guess which party he was thinking about.

Ever the Washington outsider, the president rarely conceals his disdain for the Eastern establishment. During vacation, it surfaced anew. While commiserating with reporters in the swelter, he said teasingly that he knew they would prefer to be "lounging on the beach, sucking in the salt air."

Then last week, as he prepared to tee off for a round of golf, Bush exchanged pleasantries with a freshly arrived reporter. When she told him that she had been on the West Coast "sucking in salt air," Bush chuckled and inquired:

"Brie and cheese?"

With his four-week retreat quickly coming to an end, the president on Saturday wielded a chain saw to clear dead wood from a canyon on his ranch, then took reporters on an extended, sultry tour of his beloved 1,600 acres.

"It is a unique piece of property for Texas," Bush said at one of many points where he stopped to rhapsodize about the trees on the family spread.

"They're really big and magnificent trees. I mean, I fell in love with [the ranch] the minute I saw it."

"Tree man," Bush called himself. ". . . I have come to appreciate them a lot."

The ranch, he said, is "one of the few places where I can actually walk outside my front door and say, I think I'm going to go walk two hours. And although I'm not totally alone [because a White House doctor, nurse and military aide with the "football" containing the nuclear codes are always nearby], I can walk wherever I want to walk. And I can't do that in Washington."

By the time he returns to Washington on Thursday, Bush said, "I'll be all charged up. I think I'll have the right perspective."

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