WASHINGTON – “Put me in coach,I'm ready to play today,” rang out across the White House South Lawn while a fuzzy mascot entertained crowd members who were cooling themselves from the summer heat with American-flag fans – it was the essence of the national pastime,but with a Latin twist.
Menudo,a Latino boy band,sang the national anthem to open this year's T-ball season on the South Lawn. President Bush,once a Little Leaguer himself,began the program in 2001 to encourage youth fitness and build interest in the sport.
The Little League Red Sox of Camden,N.J.,faced off against the Little League Angels from Manati,Puerto Rico,in a Monday afternoon game meant to recognize the Latino community's contributions to the game of baseball. It was the first of three T-ball games planned for the summer.
Roberto Clemente Jr.,son of the first Latin American player to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame,was named honorary commissioner.
Bush told Clemente that the No. 21,his father's jersey number,was retired this year at the makeshift South Lawn stadium.
“I don't know if you know this or not,but we've got a special right field porch this year,” Bush said. “This is an addition – we might just call that Clemente Porch.”
Angel Macias,who threw a perfect game while pitching for his Monterrey,Mexico,team in the 1957 Little League World Series,and Jake Austin,who will portray Macias in a movie about that series,presented the game ball.
Bush led the players in their pledge and then let loose a classic “Play ball.”
Jose Rijo,the Washington Nationals executive and once World Series MVP,acted as first-base coach,while U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez took over third base.
“Everyone leaves here as winners today,” said Natalie Morales of NBC's “The Today Show,” who announced the game.
After the one-inning game,Bush gave each player an autographed game ball.
The teams and their families stayed on the south lawn for a picnic and short Menudo concert.