Young players and older fans of baseball are again gathering in Washington near the fountain on the South Lawn of the White House to play and watch a version of the sport known as Tee Ball.

President George W. Bush loves baseball. He is the former owner of Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers, and continues to follow the sport. Three years ago, Mr. Bush launched the White House Tee Ball Initiative to promote interest in baseball and foster a spirit of teamwork and service for America's youth.

Three Tee Ball games were played last year at the White House. The first game this year was on June 22nd.

"Laura and I welcome you to the White House for this, the opening game of the 2003 season for tee ball on the South Lawn," said President Bush.

The children were from military families as the White House continues to thank those who have recently served in U.S. military operations.

"Today we honor the men and women who wear our nation's uniform," he said. "And it is our honor to welcome two teams. First the Braves from Fort Belvoir, Virginia. And the Braves' opponents, the mighty Yankees from the naval base, Norfolk, Virginia."

The teams that play at the White House are selected by Little League Baseball. Tee Ball is the entry sport to baseball for young boys and girls, generally between the ages of four and eight.

"We do not throw out the ball here, we place it gently on the tee," emphasized George w. Bush. "I would like for the players to join me in the oath. I trust in God. I love my country and will respect its laws. I will play fair and strive to win. But win or lose, I will always do my best. Are you ready? Play Ball!"

The two teams take turns hitting a ball off a batting tee set on home plate. Batters try to get on base and advance to home while fielders try to prevent that from happening. The elimination of pitching allows children to participate without the fear of being hit by a pitched ball. Television sports announcer Kenny Mayne (of ESPN) called the first Tee Ball game of the season at the White House.

"Stepping into it! Deep to right [field]," he said. "That is going to fence, extra bases, or just a long single. It scores a run and moves the runners [along the bases]. Von Brock [with the] big hit of the game. The [next] batter is Christiana Mushara, number 20, six-year-old, three-foot-10 [inches tall]. [She likes] spaghetti and Texas toast. [She] wants to be a grown-up, later, who doesn't."

Tee Ball helps the young players to develop the primary baseball skills of hitting, running, fielding and throwing while giving children experience playing as a team. Tee Ball is played in every U.S. state and territory and in dozens of countries around the world. Participation is estimated at 2.2 million players each year.