Op-ed: America’s pastimes

  • By Bob Franken
  • Saturday, April 1, 2017 8:46pm
  • Opinion

What a relief: President Donald Trump will not be throwing out the first pitch for the Washington Nationals’ opening-day ballgame. I should say what a relief pitcher, because now the Nats will have to find someone else to give a ceremonial start to the season — which will only end when they’ve won the Beltway World Series, defeating the Baltimore Orioles in seven games (who you calling a Beltway “homer”?).

The Nationals have a standing offer to presidents to heave the first ball, but the White House declined, saying POTUS had a “scheduling conflict,” which is another way of saying Trump and his handlers realized that he would be booed out of the stadium. Besides, with that weak pitch he gave Republicans before their health care plan loss, he had to realize that he’d probably fall short of the plate. Apparently he doesn’t have the strong-arm he might have had in the past.

It’s a pity, because the tradition dates back to 1910, when William Howard Taft did the honors. One might think Trump’s people could have at least offered up one of their own as a substitute, but that’s not as easy as it would seem. Let’s say they chose Steve Bannon, Trump’s incendiary chief strategist (and, some believe, the real president). The problem is that Bannon only throws bombshells. If he had his way, he’d simply trash the place, or at least upend the infield.

Sean Spicer would angrily throw a beanball at the batter and then pull out a weapon, which he’d fire at the press box. Kellyanne Conway would insist it was only an “alternative pitch.”

Meanwhile, Ivanka would want to stay behind to run her profitable private businesses from her White House offices. Her husband, Jared, had already set up shop there so he could take on the government functions in his portfolio, which includes everything.

If the Nationals decided to go to Capitol Hill, they might seek out House Speaker Paul Ryan. Since he’s so adept at speaking from both sides of his mouth, perhaps he can throw a ball with each arm at the same time. But alas, Ryan was not available, because no one could explain what was in it for him. As for House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, he was too busy batting away any threats to his patron Donald Trump, particularly the accusations of coordinating the election campaign with Russia.

Come to think of it, there are those who believe that it’s Vladimir Putin who is running the country — or, actually countries, the USA and USSR he’d like to restore. But no one wanted to ask him to throw out the first pitch because of the risk he’d be offended and murder the one whoever suggested the idea. Besides, now that he got Trump elected, the U.S. is playing ball with him just fine, thank you. To be fair, Putin denies that his government had any role in the U.S. election. Most recently he was asked by a CNBC correspondent whether Russia meddled in the campaign and he responded, “Read my lips. No.” Actually, what he said was, “Chitay po gubam. Nete.” But let’s not quibble. In any language, we wouldn’t expect him to say anything else, would we?

And let’s not forget someone else who demanded we read his lips: President George Bush the first pledged “no new taxes.” Subsequently, he raised taxes. Maybe “Read my lips” means “I’m lying” in Russian as well as English.

So many similarities: In baseball, the players aren’t always successful in avoiding collision, charging into each other; in the game of politics, Donald Trump is desperately trying to avoid charges of collusion. In baseball, the player often strikes out; in politics these days, President Trump often lashes out. In baseball, the player’s out. Trump’s not out. Yet.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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