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Director of Little League Museum Describes His Encounter With George H.W. Bush

Lance Van Auken, director of the World of Little League Peter J. McGovern Museum has his own fond memories of the late 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush, who died on November 30 at the age of 94. Van Auken was tasked by Steve Keener, President and CEO of Little League International Inc.,

Lance Van Auken, director of the World of Little League Peter J. McGovern Museum has his own fond memories of the late 41st President of the United States, George H.W. Bush, who died on November 30 at the age of 94.

Van Auken was tasked by Steve Keener, President and CEO of Little League International Inc., with coordinating with White House of President George W. Bush, son of President George H.W. Bush, the logistics of the holding of the T-Ball Games on the South Lawn of the White House from 2001 to 2008. It was during the setting up of one of these games that Van Auken had his encounter with “41,” as he was fondly known. He (Van Auken) said he has wonderful memories of this encounter and details it here in his own words.

“In 2001, I was on the South Lawn of the White House overseeing the setup of a Tee Ball field. I’d heard that President George H.W. Bush was visiting his son, the current President. We were told he might make his way down to the little area near a giant Bald Cypress where, in a few days, the first Tee Ball on the South Lawn game would be played.

We gained permission from the White House Counsel to print the Little League logo, and the Presidential Seal, on some baseballs that were to be signed by President Bush before the game. There were about 48 of them … quite unique in design. All of our guests (myself and my daughter, Sarah included), along with the players, were to receive one ball. I had brought the balls with me so that the current President could sign them before the game scheduled for the weekend.

We’re not permitted to request autographs in public, and I don’t like to do it in most cases anyway. But when President Bush came around to the field, it was basically just him and me standing there. I asked if he would sign a ball for me, and one for my daughter.

Of course, he did. But just as he was about to autograph the ball, he asked, “Is my son going to sign this, too?”

”Yes sir, Mr. President,” I said.

“Well, I better not sign the sweet spot. Forty-three will probably fine me.”

We laughed. He signed both balls, one of which is in a photo.

But the rest of the balls never made it to the weekend’s game. The reason all of the balls were destroyed is too long a story to tell here, but they were…all except the couple of baseballs President George H.W. Bush signed that day.

Sarah did get her baseball signed later in the week by “Forty-Three” … and it is the only one like it on the planet. It carries the autographs of two Presidents (the son did sign on the sweet spot), the Little League logo, and the Presidential Seal.

The few minutes I got to spend alone with President George H.W. Bush on the South Lawn of the White House were almost surreal. He was not just genial, but genuinely friendly, as we talked about baseball, and the field that was being built. In just a few moments, he made me feel less nervous than I should have been. He was also taller than he seemed on television.

In the coming years, I would get a chance to meet and speak with his lovely wife Barbara, two of his sons, and his daughter-in-law Laura. All of them were just as friendly as the Patriarch. They also surrounded themselves with dedicated, hard-working people who loved their country, and loved working at the White House — all the ones I met anyway.

But I’ll never forget the sweet man who chatted about baseball with me that day – a man who was a genuine hero to me and my family in many ways. I hope he is having a joyous reunion with Mrs. Bush and their daughter Robin in Paradise.”

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