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Presidents' Day and America's Pastime

Government offices and banks were closed for Presidents' Day.  But the Reds Hall of Fame was still open, and education manager Ken Freeman says American Presidents have had a lengthy connection with Major League Baseball.

The first sitting President to attend a baseball game was North Bend, Ohio native Benjamin Harrison, in 1892.  (The Reds beat the Senators, 7-4, in 11 innings.)

Freeman says Cincinnati native William Howard Taft was the first sitting President to attend an opening day game, and the first President to throw the opening pitch.  But Freeman says it doesn't appear that Taft invented the seventh inning stretch, but he may have popularized it.

"It is true that during a game... when Taft stood up to leave, during the seventh inning.  And everyone in the ballpark around him, thinking he was leaving, they all stood up, out of respect," Freeman says.  "But then he sat back down.  And everybody sat back down.  Hence, the seventh inning stretch, right?"

However Freeman says a reference to the practice dates back to 1869.  "There's a story, (from) Harry Wright, who was a member of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first all professional baseball team.  He wrote a letter saying 'the Cincinnati fans have a strange custom of standing up and shouting and cheering during the seventh inning."

"So did Taft invent it?  Probably not," Freeman says.  Taft was President from 1909 to 1913.

Other American Presidents have been a part of Cincinnati's baseball history.  In 1935, Franklin Roosevelt flipped a switch in Washington, DC, to turn on the lights for the first night baseball game, at Crosley Field.  Richard Nixon threw out the first pitch for the All Star Game, in Cincinnati, in 1970.  In 2006, George W. Bush had the honor to open the Reds' season at Great American Ball Park.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan was scheduled to throw the first pitch in Cincinnati, "But," Freeman says, "There was that little matter of an assasination attempt.  So he wasn't able to."