President Bush to toss first pitch in Cincy

By Joe Kay The Associated Press

CINCINNATI – Gaps in the upper decks were covered with white tarps yesterday, limiting views into the ballpark. Blue-jacketed agents walked around the field during batting practice, going over last-minute security details.

This won’t be just another opening day in Cincinnati.

For the first time, baseball’s first professional franchise will have a sitting president throw a ceremonial pitch to start the season. President Bush plans to visit the clubhouses, then take the field before the Reds and the Chicago Cubs open their seasons this afternoon.

Most of the players have never met a current president, so that alone will set this one apart.

“I hope I get to meet him,” said right-hander Aaron Harang, who will make his first opening day start for the Reds. “I might be getting ready for the game. I’ll do what I can to meet him.”

It’s the third straight year that Bush will throw a pitch before an opener – he was in St. Louis and Washington the past two years.

A personal connection is bringing him to Cincinnati.

Local produce magnate Bob Castellini, who was part of Bush’s ownership group with the Texas Rangers, bought control of the Reds last January. He invited the president to attend Castellini’s first opener as the Reds owner.

“Every team would like to have the sitting president of the United States throw out the first ball,” Castellini said yesterday, watching his team work out at the ballpark. “So when you’re able to win out and get the president to come to your city and throw out the first ball, for that moment you are the first team in baseball.”

The Reds have brought prominent Republicans to Cincinnati for the last few years – former President Bush threw a pitch before the ballpark opened in 1993, and Vice President Dick Cheney did it a year later.

Once Bush lets it fly, the focus will be on two teams that are a long way from being the first team in their division.

The Reds have put together five consecutive losing seasons, their longest such streak in 50 years. Recently, opening day has been one of the few grand moments for the franchise.

“The intensity is like being in the postseason, for that one game,” manager Jerry Narron said. “It’s awesome.”

It’s inauspicious for the Cubs, who are starting the season with Kerry Wood and Mark Prior on the disabled list.

Right-hander Carlos Zambrano will start the opener for the second consecutive season, trying to keep his emotions in a little better check this time. When he was taken out of last year’s 16-6 win in Arizona, he was ejected for questioning the plate umpire as he left the field.