President Makes His Pitch – to Home Plate

President Makes His Pitch – to Home Plate
Barack Obama
Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP

07/14/2009 AT 09:30 PM EDT

It had been four years since he last threw a pitch, but with a little bit of practice in the Rose Garden – and some last-minute advice from baseball legend Willie Mays – President Obama lofted the first pitch at Tuesday's Major League Baseball All-Star Game in St. Louis.

Throwing from the mound, Obama had the benefit of personal coaching by Mays, 76, who flew to St. Louis with Obama aboard Air Force One. "I am telling him, follow through," Mays said as they made their way from Obama's speech in Detroit to the game. "He's going to do fine, I guarantee you. ... I just want to make sure he follows through."

That he did, though the pitch wasn't a strike – in fact it didn't quite make it all the way to the plate. The catcher leaned forward to scoop it up.

The president, who last threw a pitch at the 2005 American League Championship Series, had also practiced throwing the night before, with personal aide Reggie Love in the White House Rose Garden outside the Oval Office. "I think it's fair to say that I wanted to loosen up my arm a little bit," Obama said. He also dressed the part, wearing a Chicago White Sox jacket. "I'm a White Sox fan, my wife thinks I look cute in this jacket. So, why not?" the former U.S. senator from Illinois says.

Mays was in a laughing, feisty mood wearing a tattered Giants ball cap with his suit and tie. He said it was his first time on the presidential 747. "I'm impressed," he told reporters in the press cabin.

And he got emotional when asked by PEOPLE what he and Obama had been talking about in the forward cabin.

"I reminded him that I dreamed about this day – not being on Air Force One, but dreamed about someone in my race being president, not knowing that anyone would be. But I reminded him that I cried for most of the night in Chicago" on election night, Mays said, his eyes tearing up. "Stayed up all night. I went to sleep about 7, maybe 8:00 in the morning I was so proud. So that tells me all the things I went through it was for good things. So I'm just proud of him, you know."

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