There was the time, 26 years ago, when former President George H.W. Bush threw the first ceremonial pitch to open Camden Yards.
And there was the year before, when the sitting president visited Memorial Stadium to host Queen Elizabeth II, at her request to experience some American culture.
And two years before that, in 1989, when Bush watched three Orioles games in person. He was a presidential good luck charm—the O’s won all three, two of the games here and one on the road in California.
The late 41st president, who died last Friday at age 94, has been remembered during emotional memorial services in Washington, D.C. and Texas this week: He was a Navy pilot during World War II. Oil man turned Congressman. Ambassador to the U.N. and China. Director of the CIA. Vice president and ultimately president.
Under his watch, the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended. The first Gulf War was fought and taxes raised despite his campaign promise otherwise. (“Read my lips: No new taxes.”) He was the father of another president (and Texas Rangers co-owner) George W. Bush and a family man whose character traits were cherished by his wife, children, and grandchildren, and whose voice and mannerisms were impersonated by comedian Dana Carvey.
Bush 41 was also the “baseball president.”
Just like new Orioles general manager Mike Elias, Bush played baseball at Yale University, where he was captain way back in 1948. He played in the first-ever College World Series, and even met Baltimore native and former Orioles minor-leaguer Babe Ruth during his college years.
Bush kept the mitt he used at Yale in his desk at the Oval Office, and when an opportunity presented itself to watch a game during his time as commander-in-chief, he didn’t pass it up. D.C. didn’t have a pro baseball team from 1971 to 2005 so naturally Baltimore was Bush’s destination of choice to take in pro games and host dignitaries.
We join the country in mourning the loss of former President George H. W. Bush. pic.twitter.com/N1KxV56BMO— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) December 1, 2018
In 1991, the year Bush attended the All-Star Game in Toronto with Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, he even attended a minor-league Frederick Keys game a few weeks earlier. He also watched a Hagerstown Suns game in person.
Chris Hoiles was the catcher for the famous first pitch that opened the O’s sparkling new stadium in 1992. Bush was on the field with his son and grandson. The stadium, Bush said, was “a magnificent tribute to Baltimore.”
The year before Camden Yards opened, Queen Elizabeth II and the British royal family’s visit to Memorial Stadium in May 1991 came with much pomp and circumstance, as this video shows.
The television announcers, Tom Davis of HTS and Brit Hume of ABC News, debated if players from the Orioles and Oakland Athletics should take their hats off and the protocol for shaking the queen’s hand.
Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, on opening day of 1989, arrived with slightly less fanfare. But his visit was just as much an expression of sports event diplomacy. Like the queen, it was Mubarak’s first baseball game.
“President Bush had a hard time explaining the game to his guest at first because the first run was not scored until the fourth inning,” columnist Maureen Dowd wrote in The New York Times, after setting the scene: “The two Presidents sat in the sky box, watching the baseball game with their Orioles caps, their hot dogs, their pickles, their horseradish, their Cokes in Orioles plastic souvenir cups, their player lineup sheet on White House stationery, their little white binoculars and a black secure phone.”
Two months later, Bush was back in Baltimore for a regular season game, his first non-opening day appearance. As The Washington Post’s Mark Maske wrote, there was no grand introduction, no first-pitch ceremony. But it was a big day. Bush sat in the in the box of Orioles’ principal shareholder Eli Jacobs, who showed off a replica model of the future Camden Yards, on the day demolition crews began to clear the site.
It turns out, as much as anyone, the 41st president was part of Baltimore baseball history.