Dr. Fauci throws first pitch of MLB season, players kneel in Black Lives Matter salute
Dr. Anthony Fauci took a break from fighting the coronavirus pandemic as the nation's top infectious disease expert to throw the first pitch of the 2020 Major League Baseball season.
On Thursday evening, Fauci took the mound at Nationals Park before a game between the Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees.
The doctor wore a face mask and Nationals cap and jersey.
The 79-year-old appeared to be a much better doctor than pitcher as he threw the ball nearly halfway to first base, several feet from home plate. The New York Post described the pitch by comparing it to COVID numbers, stating Fauci "flattened the curve straight into the ground on opening day."
Add this to the 1st Pitch Hall of Fame... Fauci the legend pic.twitter.com/UzerGllV31— Reggie Chatman Jr. (@ReggieChatman) July 23, 2020
Afterward, Fauci and his “catcher,” Washington reliever Sean Doolittle. tapped gloves, instead of shaking hands.
"Dr. Fauci has been a true champion for our country during the COVID-19 pandemic and throughout his distinguished career, so it is only fitting that we honor him as we kick off the 2020 season and defend our World Series Championship title," the Nationals said ahead of the game, in a statement to MLB.com.
The doctor was chosen to kick off the 60-game season amid the global pandemic as he is seen as a voice of wisdom throughout the coronavirus outbreak.
Fauci was born in New York but now resides in the Washington area where he works as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The Nationals and Yankees knelt in unison as part of the opening day ceremony that featured references to the Black Lives Matter movement, the coronavirus pandemic, and the home team’s 2019 championship.
Players from both clubs wore T-shirts saying Black Lives Matter during batting practice at Nationals Park, and the letters “BLM” were stenciled into the back of the mound at the center of the diamond.
In a poignant reference to the racial reckoning happening in the U.S., players and other members of both teams held a long black ribbon while standing spaced out along the two foul lines. After they placed the ribbon on the ground, everyone then got on their knees.
They all then rose for a taped performance of the national anthem.
Yankees players decided Wednesday they wanted to kneel for 60 seconds before the anthem. New York officials then asked Washington if that time could be added to the pregame script. The Nationals decided they wanted to join the Yankees.
“We’ve had conversations as an organization. We’ve had conversations as a team. We’ve had smaller group conversations. Conversations with one another,” New York manager Aaron Boone said hours before the game. “And we’ve kind of decided ... we’ll, as a team, have our own demonstration on the field.”
That display followed a series of videos shown on the outfield scoreboard: about Black Lives Matter, showing major league players such as New York’s Aaron Judge and Washington’s Howie Kendrick; about the Nationals’ postseason run; about the COVID-19 outbreak.
Without any spectators present to appreciate the celebrations, flags noting the franchise’s first title were raised beyond right field and above the scoreboard, and “2019 World Champions” was written on a red mat that was wrapped around the batter’s boxes during pregame introductions.
Hours later in Los Angeles, the Giants and Dodgers held a black ribbon that wound along the baselines in a show of unity after pregame introductions. Anthem singer Keith Williams Jr. stood in the new center field seating at Dodger Stadium to perform instead of the usual spot near home plate.
Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts, who signed a 12-year, $365 million contract on Wednesday, and some of the Giants kneeled during the performance.
In a video, 98-year-old Rachel Robinson, whose husband, Jackie, broke the major league color barrier in 1947, gave the traditional call: “It’s time for Dodger baseball.”
Judge got the first hit of the season and teammate Giancarlo Stanton soon tagged Washington ace Max Scherzer for the first home run of the season.
In the bottom of the first inning, Adam Eaton homered off prized Yankees newcomer Gerrit Cole.
The game went into a rain delay in the sixth inning with the Yankees batting while leading 4-1.