Opening Day tradition lives on

There can be nothing in all of American sports quite like Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season.

Daytona 500? Indy 500? Super Bowl? Forget about it.

Opening Day has a place all its own. It usually features a presidential first pitch.

Some presidents, well, have better arms than others. John F. Kennedy had a pretty good arm. So did Dwight Eisenhower.

But the standard for presidential first pitches still belongs to George W. Bush. Allow me this one caveat, though: He didn’t set the standard on Opening Day. He set it instead on the first game at Yankee Stadium during the 2001 World Series, the one that had been delayed by the events of 9/11.

Baseball fans everywhere remember that night. The president strode the mound wearing a New York Fire Department jacket. The crowd roared.

Then the president took the baseball, rubbed it in his hand and from the top of the mound — not in front of it as some presidents do — he wound up and threw a perfect strike.

The crowd noise that greeted the president’s arrival on the mound? It turned into an absolute din as 56,000-plus fans erupted. The pitch symbolized the perfect tonic for a nation that had been grieving, had become enraged at the dastardly deed done to it and sought relief from the anguish.

President Bush, with a simple pitch from a baseball stadium mound, delivered the goods.

There can be nothing like it anywhere else in the world of sports.

Play ball!