President Obama Talks Baseball with Bob Costas


Mr. Costas:
Mr. President, we know of
your basketball background. What kind of
baseball guy are you? The President:
Well, you know, I am
a big baseball fan. I didn’t play
organized baseball. And I grew up in Hawaii. My earliest memories of baseball
were actually the Hawaii Islanders, which was
a minor league team. Mr. Costas:
Pacific Coast League. The President:
Pacific Coast League. And an old rambling ballpark
that was about maybe six blocks from my grandparents’ apartment. And we would go in
there and, you know, get boiled peanuts and
watch the night game. And me and my friends —
this is when we were nine, ten years old, eleven years old. We’d run out and try to grab
the rosin bag at the end of the game, cause havoc
onto the field. So those are my earliest
memories of baseball. But I never — partly because
when I was really young, I was living overseas. You know, I never got involved
in little league and didn’t have the chance to become part of
an organized baseball team. Mr. Costas:
You remember the first major league game you ever attended? The President:
When I was 11 years old going
to a Royals game because my grandmother’s brother
lived in Kansas City. And I still remember
going to that game. Had a great time. Mr. Costas:
I’m trying to do the math. Eleven years old. That would have
been in the 1970’s. Early 70’s? The President:
This would have been ’72, ’73. I have to confess. I do not remember who was
playing for the Royals back then. Mr. Costas:
So it was just
before they got good. It’s just before George Brett
and Whitey Herzog and Hal McRae. The President:
Brett wasn’t playing yet. I don’t even think I have any
idea who was in that line up. Mr. Costas:
They were only a few
years into expansion. The President:
But I remember having a
great time at the game. Mr. Costas:
So you’re wearing your
White Sox windbreaker. Your team’s three and a half back in the American League Central. The President:
They’ve come back. I mean, at the
beginning of the season, we were all feeling
a little fearful. At this point, I think
they’ve got a real chance. Mr. Costas:
Optimistic about
the second half. The President:
Always optimistic. Mr. Costas:
You’re a man known
for his even demeanor. What’s up with your
man Ozzie Guillen? The President:
You know, Ozzie,
it works for him. What can I tell you? We were trying to figure
out who curses more, Ozzie Guillen or Rahm Emanuel. And from what I understand, I
think Ozzie takes the prize. Mr. Costas:
And from what I’m told, in order to out-do Rahm Emanuel in the profanity department,
you got to go some. The President:
You got to go. But it works for him. I heard he just
insulted Wrigley Field. Mr. Costas:
Right. The President:
You know, he says
what’s on his mind. That’s a good thing. Mr. Costas:
And you wear that Sox windbreaker and make no bones about it. You’re a south sider, you’re a
White Sox guy, not a Cubs guy. The President:
Listen, I’m not a Cubs hater. You know, there’s a certain type
of White Sox fan that actively roots against the Cubs. So when the Bartman — Mr. Costas:
Right. The President:
There were people who
celebrated on the South Side. I’m not one of those guys. I wish them well, unless
they’re playing the White Sox. But I do think that there’s a
different quality to what used to be Comiskey Field
versus Wrigley. You’ve got to really
love baseball, you know, when you used to go
into that old field. Mr. Costas:
The old Comiskey Park. The President:
Right. If you were in the
nose-bleed seats, it looked like you were
about to fall into the park. You’d get vertigo. You know, Wrigley’s
so civilized. You know, there’s white wine
interspersed with the beer. Mr. Costas:
It’s a little gentrified. The President:
Little gentrified, exactly. Mr. Costas:
Were you around 30
years ago this month for Disco Demolition Night? The President:
I was not. Mr. Costas:
You were not? The President:
I was not in Chicago. Mr. Costas:
Can you prove you were not
in the ballpark that night? Can you prove you
didn’t rush the field? The President:
Is this Hannity? Have you been
associating with — (laughter) The President:
I’ve read about it, though. It looks wild. Unbelievable. Mr. Costas:
It’s crazy. Center field was on fire. The President:
That’s what I hear. Mr. Costas:
It’s like you’re saying, things could get a little crazy in the old Comiskey Park. The President:
And, you know, the neighborhood was a little tougher. Absolutely. Mr. Costas:
I heard you flew in
with Willie Mays, gave him a ride
on Air Force One. The President:
Unbelievable. Unbelievable. You know, and he’s such a
gracious, wonderful man. And, you know, he was saying how
on election night he had watched and he remembers staying
up all night after that, he was so excited about it. And I tried to describe to him
the fact that what he did, what Jackie did, that
contributed to the culture that allowed me eventually to even
dream of running for president. And I believe that. I mean, I think that there is a
direct line between those early pioneers in baseball who,
despite great difficulties — you know, the Hank
Aarons, the Willie Mays, the Jackie Robinsons, set a tone
about what was possible for America. And being able to be part of
a team, regardless of color, that really did eventually pave
the way for other breakthroughs down the road. Mr. Costas:
Was Willie touched by that? The President:
You know, he’s just
a very gracious man. And I was touched, I
don’t know if he was. Mr. Costas:
Your predecessor was a very
good first-pitch thrower. The President:
He was. Very impressive. Mr. Costas:
In fact, one of the best
moments of the Bush presidency, at least symbolically, was that
dramatic first pitch after 9-11 at Yankee Stadium. The President:
Unbelievable. You know, first of all,
President Bush is a very gracious person. He’s a good athlete. You know, very fit. And, you know, I’m assuming
that over at the Rangers he was getting some practice. Mr. Costas:
Yeah. Studied Nolan Ryan. The President:
Absolutely. But he had a pretty
good gun on there. You know, he threw a good pitch. I have to confess, I’ve only
thrown out one first pitch in a major league game. And that was at the American
League Championship game. The White Sox appeared. It was the second game. And I went out there and — I
will take full credit for the fact that they had
lost the first game. From the second game forward,
they did not lose a game straight. On the other hand, the pitch,
although it crossed the plate, I think probably clocked
about 30 miles per hour. Mr. Costas:
Yeah, but that was
the change-up. You had ’em off stride. The President:
Certainly I would have them
off stride on the first pitch. If I threw that same second
pitch, I think it would be gone. Mr. Costas:
Now, that night in ’01, President Bush warmed up beneath Yankee Stadium with Derek Jeter. You’re going to warm up
tonight with Albert Pujols. The President:
Not a bad bargain. Although I went into the
clubhouse and talked to the American League and
National League Guys. I was talking to Beckett. Mr. Costas:
Right. The President:
I asked, what’s the tip? “Everybody gives the same tip:
just throw it high, man.” Mr. Costas:
Right, you don’t
want to bounce it. The President:
Just don’t bounce it. Mr. Costas:
You don’t want to bounce it. The President:
So that was my strategy. I’m treated a little
better as a President, because I was only a U.S. Senator at the time that I threw out that first pitch. And there was no warm up, man. They just handed you — Mr. Costas:
Went in cold? The President:
They just hand you the ball
and they say, go out there. So there was a lot
of loft on that ball. Threw it up real high. Mr. Costas:
What was the most interesting exchange you had a little while ago with any of the all-stars? The President:
Well, you know, I remarked to Jeter that he’s one of the older guys here, which
is hard to believe, because I remember him
as the rookie coming in. And of course he
pointed to Wakefield — Mr. Costas:
Right, Tim Wakefield. The President:
— who I could relate
to a little bit more. Closer to my age. Mr. Costas:
Don’t try the knuckle ball. Don’t try to be a
left-handed Wakefield. The President:
Not at all. And I had a wonderful time
talking to Mariano because he had all his sons with him. And I asked — I guess
Mariano Junior — I said, well, has your dad taught you that cut fast ball? And he said “Yeah, I’m
getting it, I’m getting it.” So you know, we may have
to keep an eye on that kid. And then I talked to Ichero. And I said, now, how exactly do
you throw that ball from in the outfield to home
plate like a laser? Mr. Costas:
Right. The President:
And he said, “Soft muscle.” Mr. Costas:
Soft muscle. The President:
Soft muscle. He said, “You don’t
need to be big.” It was a very zen-like answer. Mr. Costas:
He’s a very zen-like guy. The President:
He’s an impressive guy. Mr. Costas:
In this morning’s
New York Times, they asked some of the ball
players what they would like to ask you. So I’ll be their surrogate here. The President:
All right. Go ahead. Mr. Costas:
Okay. Mark Teixeira, now with the
Yankees, wants to know, “Who were your favorite
players when you were a kid?” The President:
You know, I think that when I first started focusing on Major League Baseball, it was when the
great Oakland A’s teams were coming up back in the 70’s. So, you know, Vida Blue and Rollie Fingers and Reggie Jackson. And I just loved the
mix of those guys. Later on I ended up liking the
Cincinnati Reds partly because — you remember that
old Superstar show? Mr. Costas:
Mm-hmm. The President:
They would come to
Hawaii after the season. Mr. Costas:
On ABC. The President:
Right, on ABC. And they’d do the
obstacle course and stuff. Mr. Costas:
Howard Cosell’d be by the
pool in the yellow blazer. The President:
Right. Mr. Costas:
What was up with that? The President:
So those guys did it
at my high school. That was where the
event was taking place. So by that time, I
was in high school, and I was on the
basketball team. And so our basketball team
would play against the Reds and sometimes against
the Dallas Cowboys. But I still remember playing
basketball against Johnny Bench and those guys, which,
you know, obviously, you got to know them and
they were real great guys. Although I will tell you, they
kind of pushed us high school kids around. They weren’t really
taking it easy. You could see that these were
some competitive guys, man. A couple of us got some bruises
and chipped teeth playing in those games. Mr. Costas:
So Mark Teixeira’s
got his answer. Mr. Costas:
Zach Duke of the
Pirates wants to know, “Has your bowling
average improved?” The President:
It has, as a matter of fact. I bowled a 161 recently. Mr. Costas:
Well, that’s good. The President:
That’s not bad. Yeah, Camp David’s got a bowling
alley and the White House has a bowling alley. I don’t want people thinking,
you know, I’m taking off, you know, from thinking about
nuclear weapons to go bowl. But every once in a while — Mr. Costas:
Well, if you take some time off, you’re probably working on your three pointers, right? More likely to go to
the basketball court. The President:
Absolutely. Mr. Costas:
All right. Curtis Granderson of the Tigers
wants to know, “Are you tired, and do you ever get stressed?” The President:
Yes and yes. (laughter) The President:
That’s an easy one. But I do think there is
something that sports teaches you about handling stress. You know, the notion that I
learned a little bit later in life but I tried to apply
when I was playing basketball, which is, you know, you play
your game and you focus on what you have control over, you do
your best with what you’ve got and then you see
how it turns out. And you don’t get
too high or too low, whether you’re up
or you’re down. And that seems to
work for me now. Mr. Costas:
Prince Fielder of the Brewers, who won the Home Run Derby last night, says, “Do you ever
get to just be by yourself, watch a little TV” — and I’m
quoting him here — “and not talk to nobody?” (laughter) The President:
I do actually. And that’s my most
precious time, other than spending
time with the girls. But usually, they go to bed —
Michelle goes to bed early. She goes to bed about 9:30. The girls go to bed about 9. And that’s when, you know,
after I’ve done the reading — SportsCenter. That’s when you break out. And if you can catch a
ballgame, open a beer, put your feet up and be quiet
for a while, nothing beats that. Mr. Costas:
Now, we all love SportsCenter, but you got to make sure they get the new MLB network
in the White House, right? The President:
I believe they do. There aren’t too many stations
that you can’t get in the White House. You know, if I have to,
I can have, you know, the CIA tap into something. Mr. Costas:
You have that kind of pull? That’s impressive. And the last one, Michael
Young, the Texas Rangers. His question, “How can I help?” The President:
That’s a nice question. And it turns out that Major
League Baseball has actually been helping us to promote
something called United We Serve. It’s based on a simple idea, and
that is government can’t solve all our problems. And when it comes to energy,
education, healthcare, community renewal, having
ordinary citizens get involved and do whatever they think
is a serious contribution, that can make all
the difference. So it’s tutoring a kid,
mentoring somebody, working in a school,
volunteering in a health clinic. So we’ve got a website,
www.serve.gov. Log on, figure out how you can
volunteer in your community, get involved in
community service. We’ve got a whole summer of
service planned that ends on September 11th, obviously to
commemorate that tragic day in our history. And I hope that people take a
little time out while you’re having fun this summer to do
something for somebody else. Mr. Costas:
We’re going to let you
go now and warm up. Are you excited? The President:
I am thrilled to be here. Having a great time. And I enjoyed this interview. Mr. Costas:
Thank you, Mr. President. The President:
Thank you.

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