For a day, Albright's policy is low and outside Secretary of state delights in all-American ritual

April 03, 1997|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, all 5 feet 3 inches of her, strode to the pitcher's mound. Dressed in black slacks with an Orioles jacket and hat, she positioned herself to throw yesterday's opening pitch.

Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles gave her a sign and moved to within 20 feet of her. Albright shook it off. He gave her another sign.

"He wanted me to throw a curveball, but I wasn't up for a curveball," she said, laughing after her overhand pitch had bounced into Hoiles' glove, about 15 feet away.

What she threw was, perhaps, a sinker.

What it meant to her to do it, is another story. Albright, 59, arrived in America in 1948 with her family, fleeing the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia. From the moment Albright, then 11, set foot in the United States, she was determined to become the all-American girl. She was so caught up in it, her friends called her "Thoroughly American Madeleine."

When President Clinton offered her the opportunity to throw out the first pitch at the Orioles' opener, Albright jumped at the chance, wholly understanding the symbolism of baseball being as American as apple pie.

And when she made yesterday's first pitch, she made history. Albright is the first Secretary of State to throw out a first pitch on Opening Day. She also is the first woman to do so for the Orioles -- but not the first female. In 1976, 6-year-old Sharon Smith of Riva, Md., had that honor as the poster child for the March of Dimes.

"When my daughter, Anne, heard I was going to throw out the first ball," Albright said, "she said, 'But Mom, you don't even throw like a girl.' It was at that point I realized I had to start practicing."

Albright's three daughters were all athletic growing up, but Albright's athletic pursuits have been limited to tennis and cross country skiing. She is a baseball fan, but when asked if she is an Orioles fan, she hedged.

"That's a difficult question for the Secretary of State," one of her spokesmen said. "She is wearing the team jacket and hat, though."

In fact, she had asked for the jacket and hat to be sent over ahead of time, breaking the tradition in which the team gear is presented at the stadium.

And she did practice for her big pitch. During the week leading up to yesterday's throw, Albright and her security detail would troop into the basement of the State Department headquarters and practice pitching.

Yesterday, shortly after arriving here, she threw a few balls in the batting cage under the stands and then stopped, telling an aide her arm was starting to hurt and it was time "to get out there and do it."

"It was great," Albright said afterward, still giddy and enjoying a hot dog in owner Peter Angelos' box. "But I think I'll keep my day job."

Pub Date: 4/03/97

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