Why George Bush's 2001 World Series First Pitch Meant More Than Just 'Play Ball'

Weeks after the horrific terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, our country was hurting. New York was hurting. It was the most devastating day in American history after 2,977 innocent lives were lost from the attacks made on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

The MLB canceled their games immediately following the attacks, but many knew that escapism through sports could be one of the best ways for our nation to start it's slow process of healing, one that's still going on today.

That fall in the World Series, the New York Yankees were playing the Arizona Diamondbacks, and I remember staying up late as a kid to watch it. Growing up in a house where baseball was our religion, and seeing the Yankees lose the first two games of the series was disheartening.

Until game three.

George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch before game 3 of the 2001 World Series at Yankee Stadium pic.twitter.com/LQlyHnpXx2

— Baseball In Pics (@baseballinpix) July 4, 2017

On October 30, then-President George W. Bush threw the ceremonial first pitch before the third game of the series at Yankee Stadium. Earlier that day, he visited first responders who were working at the World Trade Center.

The ceremonial first pitch, which has been thrown by almost every sitting president since William Howard Taft in 1910, ends the pre-game rituals, and begins the baseball game.

Bush approached the mound in an FDNY pullover with a bulletproof vest underneath (police and security were extremely heightened on the day of his visit). He was greeted with thunderous applause and fans chanting "USA! USA!"

He threw a perfect strike over home plate, and embraced Yankees manager Joe Torre and Diamondbacks manager Bob Brenly when he left the mound.

“Don't bounce it, they'll boo you.” -Derek Jeter to President George Bush before game 3 of the 2001 World Series pic.twitter.com/iM1X3ZuRsb

— Baseball Bros (@BaseballBros) September 11, 2018

However, that night, the first pitch meant more than just "play ball." It meant moving forward. It meant unity. With that throw, Bush helped heal a city and a nation. The sport's unifying power and Bush's display of leadership made such an impact on many. Baseball is America's pastime, and gave everyone a sense of normalcy even in the aftermath of September 11.

Bush urged the nation to move forward with strength when the country had so many questions and still felt so raw and vulnerable. With that pitch, he demonstrated that he was a steady leader when the nation needed one most.

Regardless of your political affiliations, it didn't matter those months following the terrorist attacks. Folks were thrilled to see Bush embody resilience and guide the country through an incredibly dark time. He did so compassionately and powerfully.

The Yankees won that night, and it was one of the most-needed and exhilarating victories for the Bronx baseball team. The victory and the first pitch solidified the fact that New York and the nation would move forward from the tragedy.

George Bush 2001 World Series
President George W. Bush talks with managers Joe Torre #6 of the New York Yankees and Bob Brenly #15 of the Arizona Diamondbacks before game 3 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium in New York, New York on October 30, 2001. Al Bello/ALLSPORT via Getty Images

It is also considered the most memorable and most important first pitch thrown by a president.

"I had never had such an adrenaline rush as when I finally made it to the mound," Bush told MLB.com. "I was saying to the crowd, 'I'm with you, the country's with you' ... And I wound up and fired the pitch. I've been to conventions and rallies and speeches: I've never felt anything so powerful and emotions so strong, and the collective will of the crowd so evident."