ARLINGTON, Texas — Former President George W. Bush wound up his right arm with two windmill whirls, then fired a high strike to help the Texas Rangers start the season Monday.
In his first big appearance locally since moving to Dallas from the White House, Bush received a standing ovation and overwhelming cheers from a crowd of about 40,000 after the public address announcer said, "We welcome home the 43rd president."
Bush, the team's managing general partner from 1989 until being elected governor of Texas in 1994, acknowledged the cheers as he made his way to the base of the mound.
Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, now the team's president, was a few steps behind to deliver the ball. Bush's throw easily made it over the plate and into the mitt of star outfielder Josh Hamilton. Afterward, the two shook hands and Hamilton pulled out a pen and the president signed the ball.
"I told him, `You didn't need to bring a glove. It's so slow, you could catch it barehanded,'" Bush said while spending part of the second inning with the team's radio crew.
Bush was to watch the game between Texas and the Cleveland Indians from the private suite of Rangers owner Tom Hicks, but first he briefly visited the press box ("Anybody working in here?" he hollered), then spent the bottom of the second inning with the radio announcers and the entire third inning with the TV crew.
Because the Rangers scored four runs while Bush was in the radio box, there was plenty of time for storytelling. He shared tales about other first pitches he's thrown out and noted that before this game Cleveland's Ryan Garko showed him a picture of them on the mound after the president threw to Garko at the 2001 College World Series.
Bush also described his ceremonial toss before the New York Yankees' first World Series home game following the 9-11 attacks as "the most nervous moment of my presidency by far."
"My adrenalin was surging through my veins," he said. "The ball felt like a shot put. I had never felt a feeling like that before. ... I walked out there and my arm felt like a thousand pounds."
A picture of that pitch has hung in the Rangers clubhouse for several years.
Wearing a red Rangers jacket on a cool, windy afternoon, Bush was back Monday in the stadium he helped create during his tenure with the team. He became the third president to throw out a first pitch for a Rangers game, joining Gerald Ford in 1976, and his father, George H.W. Bush, in 1991 and 2000.
The entire pregame scene was patriotic, starting with the release of 7,500 red, white and blue balloons into a swirling wind.
Members of the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division from Fort Hood played the national anthem while other unit members held a 100-foot by 300-foot U.S. flag. The song was drowned out for a few seconds by a flyover of two B-1 bombers from Dyess Air Force Base near Abilene.
Gov. Rick Perry, and Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond, formerly the top U.S. commander in Baghdad, were among those flanking the mound during Bush's ceremonial toss.
Last season, Bush hosted the Rangers at the White House when they were in Washington playing the Nationals. Hamilton, a recovering drug addict, returned in December as the president's guest at an anti-drug event.
"His testimony is important to hear," Bush said. "He hit bottom and now he's sober. He's a courageous guy, I think, and obviously a great ballplayer."