Monday, August 11, 2008

Ladies and Gentleman, the President of the United States

By: Dick Cooke
Rain through the night has finally allowed us to see a legitimate skyline in Beijing. The pollution has been washed away to some degree, and you don't realize the extent of the pollution until you see the skyline as we do today. I can actually see well into the distance from my 24th floor window and finally have a sense as to how far reaching the city limits are.

10 a.m.  - We get word via Bob Watson that everything has been pushed up one hour. Now we will leave at 11:30 and the game will start at 2. Our security guys tell us this is standard practice where the President is concerned. By design it keeps folks guessing.

12 p.m.  - We arrive at the ball park, and there is a heightened sense of energy. Soon after we get into our clubhouse, the coaches and staff have a briefing with President Bush's "planners" and security detail. The want to know what our pregame schedule is so they can tie his appearance into it efficiently.

We are scheduled to take BP until 1:30, he will arrive at 1:35 then the game will start at 2. They, in turn, tell us they would like something to be going on on the field when he gets here, as he doesn't want to have a situation where it looks like everyone is simply waiting for him to arrive. As a result, we change our BP time so we finish at 1:40. His advisers tell us they are never late for things like this, and he will be there precisely when they say.

1 p.m. - BP. Today I throw to Gall, Tiffee, Hessman and Schierholtz. Knowing we will get a left-hander from Korea on Wednesday, Eckstein and Reggie want these four to see me today. I will throw two groups - those who will start Wednesday - tomorrow in practice and then again for pregame BP on Wednesday.

As group two starts to wind down, I am leaning on the batting cage talking with Davey. Suddenly there is a good deal of traffic walking on to the field through the gate by our dugout. Then the President comes bursting through the gate asking, "Where is Coach Johnson?" and marches right over to the cage and visits with Davey and I.

It's a brief visit as the media swarm is significant. I do get a Davidson College plug in, and he says "Awesome place." Right after that it's time for my group to hit, so I jump out to the mound. The President walks over to visit with the Chinese team.

The pace has picked up everywhere over the past few minutes. Two hitters into my BP round, we are told it's time for the photos with the President so we leave the field, put on our game jerseys and congregate behind the cage and take a number of pictures - a very large number of pictures.

The team shots evolve into individual shots with each person's digital, and finally we do a picture with our team and the Chinese. Then we go back to the field, where we finish up our BP round and, in the meantime, the President has made his way to our dugout where he sits for quite a while and visits with players, coaches, staff, wives, etc.

He and I talk briefly about Tony Snow. He's a baseball guy and really enjoys talking with the players and re-hashing the days when he watched Davey, Reggie and Bob Watson play in the big leagues. He's very gracious with all the requested photo ops and signings of baseballs, hats, etc. We present him with a USA jersey, he throws out first pitches to our catcher and the Chinese catcher, then he heads to the stands. He stays for about two innings, then it's off to the airport and back to the US.

As I talk to one of the President's Secret Service detail, I tell him it's been a pretty typical day of pre-game activity for me. Hit some fungos, start throwing BP, stop throwing to take pictures and talk with the President, then go back and finish up the round.

Despite the change of routine, we start the game precisely at 2 p.m. and go on to beat China 7-3. We score 3 in the 9th to make it more comfortable, but it's clear the coaches and players aren't happy with the way we played. Numerous runners left on base, six innings where our pitchers threw 20 or more pitches and 169 pitches as a staff for the game.

The Chinese used seven pitchers and some showed decent arm strength. They will be a team in this tournament who will pitch OK, play decent defense, but will be weak offensively. Lach is not particularly pleased with the pitching today. Andserson starts and goes five while Jepson, Neal, Stevens and Weathers each throw one. China scores two off of Neal in the 7th and one on Weathers in the ninth.

This was the final exhibition game, and now we'll have a short practice tomorrow in prep for the opener Wednesday. It's time to get going. Tonight Roly, Blundell and I are going to find an American steak restaurant somewhere.

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