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JFK, baseball, and how we can start making America great again

JFK throwing out a ceremonial first pitch in 1962 can teach us how to be better at politics today.

Just over a week ago, the Mid-Summer Classic, Major Leauge Baseball’s All-Star game, was held at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. For the first time since the Nixon White House, baseball’s best came to the nation’s capital to show off their skills. If you are a life-long baseball fan like me, it was great.

The All-Star game has been held inside the beltway five times. One of those times was in 1962. That summer, President John F. Kennedy was scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the newly opened District of Columbia Stadium. District of Columbia Stadium was later named RFK Stadium after Jack’s brother, Robert.

After Kennedy was introduced, the President tossed out the pitch to Cardinal great Stan Musial. It was an American moment, in America’s capital, at a game of America’s pastime.

The story could end there and I could say those are the type of moments that make America great. However, as Paul Harvey used to say, and now the rest of the story.

Weeks prior to the game, every morning for 30 mintues, President Kennedy would grab a glove and ball and throw to his assistant Dave Powers. Over and over, Powers and Kennedy would toss and talk in the West Wing. The President actually joked once that Powers was his undersecretary of baseball. Kennedy was no stranger to throwing out the first pitch. He did at the opening game of the season in 1961 and 1962. In fact, his family even had a history of it. It was his grandfather, Boston Mayor John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, that threw out the first pitch at Fenway Park on April 20, 1912.

When later asked why Kennedy would put some much time and effort into practicing such a minute task, he said this, “I want to do well because Americans expect it in their President.”

What a line. I wonder now if we still have the same expectations for our leaders? Do we expect the President to still take even the small tasks seriously? Do we demand excellence? Do we hold leaders accountable when they don’t live up their promises or oath of office?

If we really want to make America great again, these are the questions we must starting asking of our leaders. Too often, politics has become winning at all cost not because of ideas, but to simply make the other side lose. Owning the opposing side may make you feel great for a moment, but it does nothing to solve problems or advance American interests. Politicians are elected by the people, we should never forget that. What great power the founders entrusted in all citizens.

It was President Kennedy who said, “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Maybe one small thing we all can start doing for our country is expect more for our leaders. Even if it is something as small as tossing out the first pitch at a baseball game.

Photo courtesy of Fred Ward – The Washington Post

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