How Baseball's Ceremonial First Pitch Became A Tradition

It's a tradition as American as asking a groundhog what it thinks the weather is going to be like, or eating a whole turkey to express a sense of thankfulness: the ceremonial first pitch at a baseball game. 

For generations, this red, white, and blue custom has given fans of the U.S.A.'s favorite pastime a definitive and sacred starting point for a given game and, more importantly, allowed them the chance to watch Carlie Rae Jepsen chuck a ball straight into the ground. When did this tradition start, though? The roots are nebulous. The practice goes back almost as far as baseball itself, a game first recorded in June of 1838 ... which by the way, according to the CBC, first took place in Canada, a little detail that Americans might not want to mention again. 

There's surprisingly little information on the history of first pitches, but it is clear that by 1890, the Pittsburgh Dispatch reported, albeit briefly, on a celebrity guest starting off a game. "The mayor of Wheeling," they wrote, "pitched the first ball, and it was a very good one."

Taft, can you dig it?

Soon, it seems that the act of opening a ballgame with a big name started to pick up steam, with more and more powerful politicians slobbering at the chance to be associated with traditional Americana charm. On April 14th, 1910, U.S. President Howard "Poppin' Fresh" Taft became the first sitting president to throw a first pitch, starting the Opening Day game between the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Athletics.

Since Taft's presidency, every sitting U.S. president has thrown a ceremonial first pitch, either on opening day, at the World Series, or the All Star Game, with one notable exception — Donald Trump has yet to take the mound. On July 23rd of 2020, Trump announced that he'd be throwing the first pitch at Yankee Stadium on August 15th, as reported by USA Today. This was set to be an unusual event, since due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he would have been the first president in American history to throw a pitch without a crowd in attendance ...

... Except nobody ever told the Yankees about this. A few days later, the New York Times reported that Trump's pitch had not only been "canceled," but had never been scheduled in the first place.