Fauci Throws Out First Pitch at Opening Game of MLB Season, Jokes That It 'Went in the Wrong Direction'

Fauci was given the big honor for being a "true champion for our country during the COVID-19 pandemic and throughout his distinguished career," the Washington Nationals said in a previous statement

Dr. Anthony Fauci
Dr. Anthony Fauci. Photo: Rob Carr/Getty

Dr. Anthony Fauci is taking his first pitch at Major League Baseball's opening day in stride.

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases threw the first ceremonial pitch at the Washington Nationals' game against the New York Yankees on Thursday night to kick off the shortened 2020 season amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Fauci, 79, was given the big honor for being a "true champion for our country during the COVID-19 pandemic and throughout his distinguished career," the Nationals said in a statement earlier this week.

Though Fauci brought the team spirit — sporting Nationals attire, including a branded face mask — to the field, he threw little too far to the outside and tossed the ball in the dirt.

When asked about the pitch on Friday, Fauci jokingly told The Washington Post, "It went in the wrong direction."

“I joked around after and said I used to be a shortstop when I played ball as a young boy and I thought I was supposed to throw to first base," he said with a laugh.

The MLB announced its decision to delay its season opener in March when the league postponed spring training. At the time, the organization said the postponement was done "in the interests of the safety and well-being of our players, Clubs and our millions of loyal fans."

In June, Fauci — the country's top infectious disease expert and one of the longest serving federal health officials in the United States — recommended that the MLB season take place only within the summer months out of concern for the novel COVID-19 virus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci
Dr. Anthony Fauci. Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free weekly newsletter to get the biggest news of the week delivered to your inbox every Friday.

"If the question is time, I would try to keep it in the core summer months and end it not with the way we play the World Series, until the end of October when it’s cold,” said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times. “I would avoid that.”

“Even in warm weather, like in Arizona and California, we’re starting to see resurgences as we open up,” Fauci explained at the time. “But I think the chances of there being less of an issue in the end of July and all of August and September are much, much better than if you go into October."

“The likelihood is that, if you stick to the core summer months, you are better off, even though there is no guarantee," he added. "If you look at the kinds of things that could happen, there’s no guarantee of anything. You would want to do it at a time when there isn’t the overlap between influenza and the possibility of a fall second wave.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci
Dr. Anthony Fauci. Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty

The MLB later unveiled its 2020 schedule, proposing a 60-game season with the regular season ending in September and postseason to end by October.

Players and coaches participating in the season will be tested for coronavirus every other day, according to The New York Times, with non-players required to wear masks in the dugout and the bullpen. Spitting, eating sunflower seeds or using smokeless tobacco have been prohibited.

Several MLB players opted to sit out the season over health concerns, including Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price, San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey, and Colorado Rockies outfielder Ian Desmond.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.

Related Articles