Opening Day for most teams is scheduled for April 3, although the official start to the 2006 season begins the previous night when the Cleveland Indians visit the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. The Cubs are scheduled to begin their season against the Reds starting at 1:10 p.m. CDT the following day. The game can be seen on WGN.
For his part, this will mark the third straight year that Mr. Bush will appear at a major league park on Opening Day to handle first pitch festivities. The president threw out the first pitch last season at RFK Stadium in Washington to welcome Major League Baseball back to the nation's capital and also appeared at Busch Stadium in 2004 for the St. Louis Cardinals' season opener.
Over the years, of course, Cub teams have played in front of a wide variety of presidents and other political audiences themselves.
Most notably, in June of 1999, Bill Clinton visited Wrigley Field during a game against the Milwaukee Brewers and toured the Cubs' clubhouse afterwards at the request of friend and confidant Sammy Sosa. The Cubs won that game, fittingly on a Sosa home run.
In September of 1988, Ronald Reagan made a now semi-famous visit to The Friendly Confines and went on the air with Harry Caray for play-by-play duties in the Cubs' broadcast booth. The Cubs lost that day to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Before and after that moment, a wide variety of elected officials from all over Illinois and the Midwest have made their way to Wrigley each year.
The same is true for the Reds and their home park. In recent years, team ownership has made it abundantly clear that they have a genuine interest in hosting political officials themselves.
In 1999, Ohio native and wealthy businessman Carl Lindner bought the Reds from its infamous former owner Marge Schott. He sold the team to fellow Cincinnati businessman Robert Castellini as recently as November of last year, but remains with the organization as an investor. (Castellini, now CEO of the Reds, made the announcement welcoming the president to his team's ballpark for the Opening Day ceremonies.)
After Lindner and investors bought the Reds, the team's new stadium, Great American Ballpark, would open in 2003. On hand at the site of the inaugural first game was none other than former president George H.W. Bush, who threw out the first pitch.
The following year, the Cubs opened the regular season in Cincinnati -- just as they had previously at old Riverfront Stadium in 2002 -- and beat the Reds, 7-4, in front of Vice President Dick Cheney, also of first pitch glamour.
For Opening Day 2005, Lindner and the Reds rolled out a former Ohio member of the U.S. House of Representatives in Rob Portman, now a Bush cabinet member who serves as the U.S. Trade Representative.
Lindner, of course, was a well known contributor to various Republican causes during his run as the Reds' majority owner. He assisted in the Bush re-election campaign in 2004, securing use of his ballpark for a presidential fundraising stop in late October where baseball great Johnny Bench was on hand to introduce the guest of honor. He also contributed to the defense team of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
Worth noting, the Reds consistently maintained one of the lowest team payrolls during this stretch. Last year during Lindner's final season as majority owner, the team spent $49,501,275 in payroll, placing them 23rd amongst the 30 MLB franchises.
The previous year, the Reds were 25th in payroll with only $43,067,858, and in 2003, they spent $65,083,196, which was actually higher than the World Series champion Florida Marlins -- baseball's all-time biggest champion by accident.
In fact, beginning in 2000 -- Lindner's first full season as Reds owner -- the team has never placed higher than 15th overall in payroll for any one season, and cracking the top 20 only once. Not surprisingly, they've not had a whiff of the postseason in that stretch.
Indeed, the Reds are spending their money somewhere. And whatever they've been doing to assist in political causes in recent years, let's hope it doesn't halt with their new ownership. It seems to be helping the rest of the NL Central.