Spring Training is in full swing. All the pitchers and catchers are there, with most are competing for a spot on the roster, in the bullpen, or for some kind of recognition in days to come. In addition, other notable Yankees continue to pour into camp, like Teixeira who is looking forward to redeeming the last couple of injury-filled seasons with a return to normalcy (whatever that is anymore).
But today is also Presidents Day, the day we are supposed to honor and remember the men who’ve led our country through good times and bad these last 200+ years. Coincidentally, I’ve been slogging my way through a biography on Woodrow Wilson, who served as President 1912-1920. (See, baseball isn’t my whole life.) But the thing that’s really interesting (which may be one of the few things I like about him) in this 700 page bio is his undying love for baseball.
Wilson grew up in the South during and after the Civil War, and while he and his family dealt with the Reconstruction Era, he discovered a fondness for this new-fangled sport that was sweeping the nation, perhaps the one thing that united the country. When he went to Princeton for college, he played on their baseball team and created by-laws and rules of order on how college baseball should be played.
After Wilson became the president of Princeton, he kept his interest in the sport he adored. Elected to governor of New Jersey and later President, his interest never waned. In fact, for one of his first public dates with his eventual second wife, he took her to see the Washington Senators beat the Yankees 7-0, after he threw out the first pitch (from his seat in the stands, as was custom for VIPs of the day). Overall, he went to 11 professional games during his presidency, and he was the first President to attend a World Series. His interest in the sport reflected the move to appreciate the National Pastime as such.
Other Presidents have also been huge baseball fans. Probably the first President to really love baseball, Taft was also the first President to attend a baseball game. Since Taft, every President (except Carter) has thrown out the first pitch at least once during their term. But only a handful have been really baseball fans. FDR saw the potential for continuing baseball through the War, including the creation of the Women’s Professional League (as made popular by A League of Their Own). Reagan briefly worked for the Cubs as a radio announcer prior to his career in politics. George W. Bush was a part owner in the Texas Ranger prior to his presidency, and his first pitch at the 2001 World Series is one of the great memories of his term and of baseball (and Yankees) history. And it’s well-known that Obama is a big White Sox fan.
It should be noted that there haven’t been any Yankee-fan Presidents yet. So where are you guys already? There’s something to be said for knowing that baseball (and really most sports in general) is a great way to unite people. There’s something about getting together to cheer on and hope for something, even if outside the park, you’re on completely opposite side politically, economically, socially, whatever. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that same camaraderie in spite of other differences in many other sports (maybe soccer, but only outside the U.S.).
And that’s part of what makes baseball pretty amazing and pretty American all at the same time. If you look at the rosters now, they are starting to reflect the melting pot of America in backgrounds, ethnicity and language, career aspirations, and even ability. A lot of the crowds who go to the games are just as eclectic and varied. I’ve heard it said that some people prefer to think that only a certain set of people go to games, but in my experience, there is no perfect baseball crowd cliché. I’ve sat in Yankee Stadium in just about every section, from the box seats to the bleaches, and I’ve met all sorts of people from marketing executives to the guy that sells tee-shirts before and after the game. There isn’t a clichéd fan because baseball is far from a clichéd sport. I still believe it’s American’s favorite game in the long-run, because unlike some other sports, anyone and everyone can be a fan and fit in. Just like we imagine our country to be, something I think our Founding Fathers and the 44 men who’ve led this country imagine it to be. It’s a good dream, it’s a good goal, and we’ve got to keep playing and dreaming for America and for baseball.