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U.S. President George W. Bush throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the home opener for the Nationals in their new ball park on Sunday night. ((Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press))

U.S. President George W. Bush had enough to worry about — like not flubbing the first pitch in front of a crowd that might not exactly be his biggest fans anyway.

So when a couple of Atlanta Braves gave him a team jersey and suggested he wear it to throw out the first pitch at Nationals Park, Bush laughed.

Uh, no thanks, guys.

Might as well put on a sign that says Boo Me.

"I'm not going to give them any excuses," a smiling Bush said of the crowd, which was gathered for the opening of Washington's gleaming new baseball stadium.

Over in the Nationals' swank clubhouse, before Bush could even wish the team well, general manager Jim Bowden told the president he expected him to throw a strike.

"Shhh," Bush responded. "Keep expectations low."

Turns out, Bush got plenty of cheers and jeers, but he didn't seem fazed.

High and outside

Bush waved twice quickly as he strode to the mound at Nationals Park. He wasted little time before throwing a pitch high and to the third-base side of the plate to Washington Nationals manager Manny Acta.

Bush acknowledged the crowd one more time by raising his hand as he left the field, again hearing applause and boos. A few minutes later, Acta's team took the field to play the Atlanta Braves to open the National League season.

It was the second time Bush has performed the honour in Washington and the sixth time overall in his presidency. He threw out the first pitch in 2005 — mostly to cheers — when baseball returned to the city after more than three decades.

Bush was escorted onto the field by Acta and Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman.

It wasn't surprising that Bush's pitch was high — just as it was in 2005. People tend to have long memories when the ball is bounced to home plate, so Bush made time this week to hurl some practice pitches in his backyard — the south lawn of the White House.

"I didn't want to bounce it, that's for certain," Bush later told ESPN announcers Jon Miller and Joe Morgan. "That's why I came in with high heat."

The tradition of a presidential first pitch goes back to 1910, when a formally dressed William Howard Taft threw the ball from his seat in the stands. Each occasion is different, but some years surely have more pizzazz than others, and Bush is benefiting from a little good timing.

Washington is buzzing about baseball. There are opening days of a season every year, but opening days for a stadium are etched into a city's history.

The $611 million US riverfront Nationals Park is earning raves as a plush, appealing attraction from fans who have seen it so far during trial runs; the players, meanwhile, can't get over the immaculate conditions and amenities.

Ryan Zimmerman's tiebreaking solo shot with two outs in the ninth inning gave the Nationals a 3-2 victory over the Braves.