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Monday, May 7, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bush's hit: T-ball at the White House

Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON - In some ways, yesterday was a typical day at the White House: lots of people running around in all directions, trying to avoid errors.

But at least these political players had the excuse of being 4 to 8 years old.

The Satchel Paige Little League Memphis Red Sox and the Capitol City Little League Rockies took to the South Lawn, leading off what aides to President Bush called his White House "T-ball initiative."

"It was breathtaking," Michael Stewart said after watching his son play in the back yard of the world's most-famous residence. "It was unbelievable enough to take a tour of the White House."

His 7-year-old son Jalen, the Red Sox first baseman, took things in stride, saying the best part was the chalk-lined carpet of grass tucked into a clump of trees.

"There's no dirt," Jalen said.

When Rockies first basewoman Kate McDonough was asked the best thing about playing before the president, the 6-year-old muttered words rarely heard at the White House or anywhere else in the nation's capital: "I don't know."

About 2.2 million children across the globe - about 35 percent of them girls - play T-ball, which is designed to teach the fundamentals of hitting and fielding.

There are no pitchers in the game. Instead, the pint-sized players hit the ball after it is placed on a stand, or tee.

Yesterday, each team member got one turn at bat and no formal score was kept.

Reporters covering the event projected an 8-4 triumph by the Red Sox, notwithstanding how well the media counted on Election Night.

The president, former co- owner of the Texas Rangers and stickball commissioner during his prep-school days at Andover, has scheduled a series of White House T-ball games.

The first Little Leaguer to ever become president, Bush is hoping to revive interest in a national pastime beset with financial and competitive problems at the major-league level.

For this opening game, Bush invited a bona fide major-league star: injured shortstop Nomar Garciaparra of the Boston Red Sox.

"Nomar played Little League; I played Little League," Bush said. "I peaked and he didn't."

As White House cooks grilled hot dogs and the smoke wafted across the diamond, parents and siblings cheered from makeshift bleachers. The stands were festooned with red, white and blue bunting, as was the outfield fence.

A four-piece military jazz band played tunes such as "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and "When the Saints Go Marching In."

The San Diego Chicken, the prototype of those now ubiquitous team mascots, lent cheers and high-fives to team members.

All the while, armed Secret Service guards, clad in black, patrolled the perimeter of the field.

Bush sat about five rows up in the bleachers, signing autographs and chatting with wife Laura and nephew George P. Bush.

This was probably the first ballgame ever televised by C-SPAN.

Sportscaster Bob Costas provided the color commentary, calling the 110-foot center-field fence "death valley."

Using information sheets filled out by the players, Costas noted that one "loves hot dogs, reading and the show, `Sister, Sister.' "

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