WASHINGTON, (July 16, 2008) – Flanked by 51 Tee Ball players from all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, President George W. Bush led the players in reciting the Little League Pledge, including the line, "I love my country …,” and for those players, families and Little League volunteers in attendance, it was a day to celebrate Little League in America.
For the past seven years, President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush have invited Little League Tee Ball teams to the White House for games on the South Lawn. President Bush, the first U.S. President to have played Little League, uses the games as a way to highlight the fun and camaraderie that children and their families can have by participating in the sports of baseball and softball.
This was the first Tee Ball on the South Lawn All-Star Game. In fact, there were two games played on this day, as a team consisting of players from Eastern U.S. states played a team representing states in the Central United States. That one-inning contest was followed by a second game featuring a collection of players from the Southern U.S. playing against a group of players hailing from Western U.S. states.
The event was announced in April, although planning began months before that. A selection panel at Little League International reviewed hundreds of entries from around the country to determine the players that would travel to Washington, D.C. Each entry was accompanied by an essay from the player’s coach, league president, teacher or school principal, giving the person’s reasons for making the recommendation. Little League’s Tee Ball division is for players who are ages 4-7, with about 800,000 participants in the U.S.
In keeping with the tradition of Tee Ball on the South Lawn games, no score was kept and every player on the four teams played on defense and batted once.
Following the final at-bat of the day, President Bush, who had watched the games from the stands, returned to the South Lawn field to present a baseball to each of the players. National Baseball Hall of Fame member Frank Robinson, honorary commissioner for the games, assisted President Bush as he distributed the commemorative balls, autographed by the President and stamped with the Presidential Seal.
Mr. Robinson stepped in as honorary commissioner, after fellow Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan was unable to attend. Other Major League Baseball celebrities participating in the festivities included Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, Los Angeles Dodger great Rick Monday, Baltimore Orioles’ first baseman Kevin Millar and Atlanta Braves’ pitcher John Smoltz, who served as base coaches.
Country music singer Kenny Chesney, performed the National Anthem prior to the first game, and the guest Public Address announcers were Mike Greenburg and Mike Golic, of ESPN Radio’s "Mike and Mike In The Morning” show. Mr. Chesney also sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” in celebration of that baseball classic’s 100th birthday, and United States Postal Service’s unveiling of a commemorative stamp honoring the song.
Each of the four teams wore distinctive team jerseys with their home state’s name on back and that state’s crest on the front. The four teams were coached by members of the Little League International staff. The field was adorned with all 50 state flags, and the District of Columbia.
Little League International created a set of unique baseball cards specifically for this event. The card set included individual photos of each of the 51 players as well as a "George W. Bush” card, with an image of the President as Little League player, and a card for Mr. Ryan, with a picture from his Little League days.
The game was the 19th played on the South Lawn of the White House since May 6, 2001. The initiative was started by President Bush as a way to boost interest in youth sports among children and parents.
The first Tee Ball on the South Lawn game of 2008 was played on June 30, between the José M. Rodriguez Little League Angels of Manati, Puerto Rico, and the Cramer Hill Little League Red Sox of Camden, N.J. The third and final Tee Ball game of the year will be held later in the summer on a date to be announced, featuring children of U.S. Military personnel, giving the President an opportunity to honor families in the armed services.
President Bush played Little League Baseball at Central Little League in Midland, Texas, in the mid-1950s. He was on the Cubs, and was a catcher. In 2001, President Bush was enshrined in the Little League Museum Hall of Excellence when he visited the Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Pa.
The Tee Ball on the South Lawn games are made possible through the generosity of these sponsors: Wilson Sporting Goods, New Era Caps, Russell Athletic, Musco Sports Lighting, Dick’s Sporting Goods, AIG Insurance, and Subway.
Little League Baseball and Softball is the world’s largest youth sports organization, with nearly 2.7 million children participating in every U.S. state and dozens of other countries on six continents. Little League is the only youth sports organization to be chartered by the U.S. Congress.