Former president played in first CWS

Friday, June 15, 2007
George H. W. Bush posed in his baseball uniform as a student at Yale University. Bush was the first baseman on the Yale team that played in the first College World Series in Kalamazoo, Mich., in 1947. (Associated Press file)

Long before George H.W. Bush stepped foot in the Oval Office, he strolled to the plate at the first College World Series.

Bush was a slick-fielding first baseman for Yale 60 years ago, when college baseball's national championship was played at Hyames Field on the campus of Western Michigan. It was a small ballpark on a picturesque hillside in Kalamazoo, Mich. -- a real-life field of dreams for college players in 1947.

"I remember going out there and thinking, 'Well, we're pretty darned lucky as an Ivy League team to be in the big time here,"' the former president said in a recent telephone interview. "But there we were."

Bush said the experience is something he and his teammates carried with them long after they put down their bats and gloves.

"I think competitive sports is good for anybody in any practice in life," said Bush, still a big baseball fan who follows the Houston Astros and the Texas A&M women's softball team. "I know in politics, it helps to be competitive and it helps to learn about sportsmanship and practice sportsmanship.

"So I found that my modest baseball career at Yale was extraordinarily helpful to me, and when I got into politics or got out into life in business."

Eight teams are in Omaha this weekend, hoping to win a national title in the Nebraska city that has been home to the College World Series since 1950.

California coach Clint Evans is often credited with the concept of a College World Series, and his Jackie Jensen-led Bears team swept Ethan Allen's Yale squad in a best-of-three series for the first national title.

Baseball commissioner Happy Chandler threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Bush, who recently celebrated his 83rd birthday, remembers the excitement of playing for a national title.

"We thought about it a lot and talked about it in the locker room," he said. "A lot of us on the team were veterans and we had come back from the war, so maybe that made it a little less apprehensive. On the other hand, it didn't deduct from our enthusiasm and our desire to win, which we did not do."

Instead, the title went to the California team led by Jensen, the Bears' ace pitcher who starred as an outfielder in the majors. The Bears won the first game in which the first few innings were played in a steady rain. Yale led 4-2 before some strategy by Allen, a former major leaguer, backfired in the seventh inning.

"We walked the eighth hitter to get to the pitcher, and it was Jackie Jensen," Bush said. "He hit one that's still rolling out there in Kalamazoo."

That big hit tied the game, and the Bears scored twice more in the eighth before breaking it open with an 11-run ninth.

Yale rallied in the second game from a 7-2 deficit and tied it in the sixth inning, but Cal posted an 8-7 victory.

Yale found its way back to Kalamazoo the next year. Southern California came out on top in three games, with the final game ending on a triple play.

"It was a traumatic experience and letdown for Yale," said Bush, the team captain.

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