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Obama on baseball: Why he’s so bad at first pitches and why ‘there’s nothing like going to a ballpark’

President Obama

President Obama shakes hands with Tampa Bay Rays players before an exhibition game against the Cuban national team in Havana on Tuesday.

(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

If there’s one thing President Obama will concede about his eight years as president, it’s that he never quite nailed the ceremonial first pitch.

“We do a lot of tough stuff as president. And by definition you don’t end up being president if you don’t handle stress well. [But] nothing is more stressful than throwing a first pitch,” he told ESPN during the broadcast of an exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team.

“They just hand you the ball. And I don’t care if you’ve been practicing ahead of time. When they just hand you the ball ...” he said, trailing off.

Obama has thrown out only two ceremonial first pitches as president, one in the 2009 All-Star game in St. Louis, and one in Washington for Opening Day in 2010.

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The first was heading toward the dirt before then-Cardinals star Albert Pujols made a defensive scoop.

“Pujols saved me,” he said. “He got down real low. Because that thing was heading for the dirt.”

Obama said he’s talked about the stress of the first pitch with his predecessors. When razzed by ESPN’s Eduardo Perez about his poor track record, he defended his baseball training.

“My dad wasn’t a Hall of Famer,” the Hawaiian-born president said. “The truth of the matter is that I did not play a lot of baseball when I was a kid.”

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But while Obama is more of a basketball and football fan, he talked about what made baseball  the national pastime.

“There is something about baseball that is so fundamentally woven into our culture. And in some ways, at a time in our lives where everything’s a mile a minute and kids are on their phones all the time and there’s just this constant stream of information, there’s nothing like going to a ballpark and just everything slowing down a little bit,” he said.

“The rhythm of the game gives you a sense of appreciation about all the blessings we have. It’s still a family game in a way that is really hard to match.”

Obama said he welcomed Major League Baseball’s efforts to speed up the pace of the game, looking behind him toward Commissioner Rob Manfred. He noted that Cuban President Raul Castro had said to him earlier that baseball was “just too long.”

Obama said he was optimistic about his favored Chicago White Sox in the upcoming season, saying they had picked up some needed offense to support a rotation helmed by ace Chris Sale (whom he appeared to call “Sales”).

“If we can just get a few hits, we’ll be OK,” he said. “I’m not looking for nonstop action. But just a couple of runs scored, I think our pitchers will be able to protect it.”

Follow @mikememoli for more news out of Washington.

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