MLB Opening Day: History and Future of the Ceremonial First Pitch Tradition

by Madison Miller

Today, April 1, all 30 MLB teams are kicking off their 2021 season on Opening Day.

Opening Day this year will feature 10 divisional match-ups among 15 different games. There will also be three Interleague contests as well.

Today, the Nationals are hosting the Mets and the Orioles will be going up against the Red Sox. ESPN is hosting four of these Opening Day games while the rest can be watched on local regional networks.

The last year has faced a lot of changes to tradition in every aspect of life. The sporting world was no different. However, baseball is now in full swing with an upcoming 162-game full season.

One of the most popular traditions in baseball, specifically Opening Day, is the first pitch. Someone influential or popular steps onto the dirt mound and tosses as close to the catcher’s box as they can. Notably, presidents throw the pitch in D.C.

Here’s a look at where the tradition of the first pitch came from.

MLB Opening Day First Pitch History

According to National Geographic, President William Howard Taft changed Opening Day in baseball forever.

On April 14, 1910, the 27th president of the United States threw the first pitch in Washington D.C. as the Washington Nationals played the Philadelphia Athletics.

In fact, the tradition isn’t just a centuries-old baseball tradition, but it is also tied to the U.S. presidency. Every president since Taft has thrown out the first pitch on Opening Day. That excludes Jimmy Carter, Donald Trump, and now Joe Biden.

The Nationals manager at the time, Jimmy McAleer, had the idea for Taft to start the game. The tradition has molded and shifted over time as the world and the game of baseball continues to change.

For example, when Taft threw the first pitch he was in the grandstands. In 1988, Ronald Reagan changed the tradition when he was the first to throw the pitch from the mound. Some presidents have thrown the first pitch outside of Washington, D.C. Richard Nixon did this when the city had no baseball team temporarily in 1973.

According to Bleacher Report, Taft loved visiting the ballpark. As long as he had a seat to support his 300-pound body, Taft didn’t mind sitting through a game.

He was presented with season tickets for the 1909 season. He loved the ballpark and his presence and devotion to attending games are what led to that first pitch a year later.

The Senators won the game 3-0 and Taft signed Walter Johnson’s ball, “To Walter Johnson, with hope that he may continue to be as formidable as in yesterday’s game.” Woodrow Wilson continued the tradition in 1913.

The First Pitch Modern-Day

The traditions of Opening Day, including the first pitch, have changed a lot over the years.

While the president often throws the first pitch in D.C., other teams bring other influential people to take a stab at pitching briefly. From Simone Biles to Kanye West to Chrissy Teigen to Bill Murray to Bill Nye, a wide range of people have accepted the honor.

Bernie Williams is throwing out the first pitch for the Yankees Opening day today. The legendary Yankees’ center fielder has the honor 30 years after he first made his debut.

According to CNN, Biden isn’t throwing out that first pitch to start the Nationals’ season. However, baseball fans will hear and see more from him (a Phillies fan) very soon.

“I know the President’s eager to get out to Nationals’ stadium. Many beautiful days, many beautiful baseball games ahead this spring. It’s not on the President’s schedule this week but I certainly expect that baseball fans will be hearing from him in next couple of days,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

The game tonight is hosting 5,000 people at 12% capacity with facial coverings required.