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07/14/09 10:53 PM EST

Obama kicks off historic night in St. Louis

First Fan, former presidents honor All-Stars Among Us

ST. LOUIS -- President Barack Obama said it was "as much fun as I've had in quite some time," and the sentiments probably were shared by many in a sellout crowd at Busch Stadium and a worldwide TV audience, as the 80th All-Star Game got under way Tuesday night with a pregame ceremony that was truly one for the ages.

"Over the top. Unbelievable," said Tim Brosnan, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of business. "It was overwhelming. You saw history.

"No major sport has ever taken its biggest marketing platform and dedicated it to the 30 people in local communities. This is the first major sport to do it, and we did it with the cooperation of the president of the United States."

The 44th president threw out the ceremonial first pitch, something no one in office had done since Gerald Ford at the 1976 All-Star Game in Philadelphia, won by the NL at a time when it was dominating. It was important that he was part of this, because his call to public service by all Americans was the catalyst for the "Go Beyond" theme that pervaded this entire All-Star Week as well as the moving tribute to 30 winners of the All-Stars Among Us campaign.

It began with the thunderous hooves of the famous Budweiser Clydesdales roaring around the full perimeter warning track starting at the right-field foul pole. Then came the introduction of the All-Stars Among Us, the individuals who drew more than 750,000 votes by fans as those most deserving of representing their local MLB clubs due to a singular act of public service and generosity. A video shown on the giant scoreboard showed first Obama, and then the crowd was especially stirred as every other living president became involved, first George W. Bush, then Bill Clinton, then George H.W. Bush, then Jimmy Carter.

"As a sport," Obama said on the video, "baseball has always embodied the values that make America great. ... Together, let's strive to make America a model for other nations. And in the meantime, enjoy the game."

There were more than a few misty eyes in the house when those everyday heroes were celebrated by that collective Presidential video. Then the 30 winners were marched out toward home plate, then proceeding in two lines over home plate and onto the infield in front of the pitcher's mound. The 66 All-Stars and managers/coaches then left their baselines, where they had just been introduced, and thanked the All-Stars Among Us in a most unique baseball scene.

All the while, in the batting cage adjacent to the Cardinals/National League clubhouse inside the bowels of the stadium, Obama was throwing warmup pitches to Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols.

At that point, Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt was sitting in the front row adjacent to the NL dugout and asked Brosnan, who was on the field: "Are they warming up under there?" Brosnan told him that Pujols was warming him up and that Obama had just done an interview with Bob Costas for MLB Network, adding, "He wasn't briefed. He's a clever guy and knows baseball."

Then the Cardinals' living Hall of Famers were all brought out to home plate and introduced to their adoring public: Stan Musial, Ozzie Smith, Bruce Sutter, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson and Red Schoendienst. As is the case wherever this is done, it is a highly emotional moment, evoking memories for many of their youth.

"This is the national pastime," Obama would say in the second inning in the Fox broadcast booth. "To go down there and meet Stan Musial and Bob Gibson and those guys, it's such a reminder about what's great in this country. You can't beat that and it's a real treat."

It was a real treat to see Sheryl Crow -- who wowed the crowd under the Arch on Saturday night's All-Star Charity Concert presented by Pepsi -- perform the national anthem in her native state. It was a real treat to see the booming flyover, and it was especially a real treat to see that first presidential All-Star All-Star pitch in so many decades.

Obama wore jeans, a black White Sox jacket and a big smile as he popped out of the National League dugout, amid incredibly high security that had caused some gridlock within the ballpark in the previous two or three hours. The president drew a great ovation in this especially patriotic setting, then he met with the Cardinals legends and proceeded to walk to the mound.

The left-hander toed the rubber, and then let it fly toward Pujols at the plate.

That's when the NL superstar made what looked to be his best play of the night. He scooped the floating ball just before it would have hit the dirt in front of the plate. So at least technically the pitch made it all the way to the catcher.

"I picked it," Pujols said a few moments later.

Brosnan was asked about the pitch, and he said of advice that had been rendered: "I tried. I wish he'd threw it high and hard. But he made it.

"He went to the top of the mound. Stood on the rubber."

Obama also said he had practiced a little bit in the Rose Garden back in Washington.

"This is the second time," Obama said of throwing ceremonial first pitches for MLB games. "I threw it out during the [2005] American League Championship Series. The Sox ended up winning the World Series. And when you're a senator, they show you no respect, so they just hand you the ball. You don't get a chance to warm up. Now here, I was with Albert Pujols in the batting cage practicing before."

Just after Obama was whisked away back into the NL dugout tunnel, Marlins pitcher Josh Johnson, selected to his first All-Star team, stood on the top step of the NL dugout and said it was a thrill to be part of the entire pregame ceremony.

"It was amazing," Johnson said. "Not everybody gets to see that, especially the president meeting us in the clubhouse. I just told him, 'Mr. President, glad to meet you.' A lot of guys did that. Some of the guys already knew him. He's taller than I thought. Maybe he is a good basketball player."

Shane Victorino gave Obama a pair of baseball shoes with the No. 44 on them, representing the 44th president. Obama said during his second-inning chat in the FOX Sports broadcasting booth that Victorino also gave him some macadamia nuts, as they both have Hawaiian roots.

"It was tremendous on a variety of fronts," said St. Louis fan Scott Sachtleben, who was sitting along the aisle a few dozen rows behind the NL dugout. "The presentation was tremendous. It wasn't dull and there were not a lot of dead spots. It was pretty neat."

Asked for his favorite part, Sachtleben said: "That's tough. I particularly liked the four presidents. It was interesting tying baseball with things that are important in life."

Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.