“It’s Barack Obama!” a young boy at Washington’s Nationals Youth Baseball Academy shrieked as he sprinted toward the surprise visitor. “Barack Obama! Barack Obama!”
The former president took time out from writing his (delayed) White House memoir to drop in Wednesday afternoon on the after-school program at the campus — featuring sports fields and a farmers’ market for healthy eating — Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals built for youth in the Southeast D.C. wards surrounding the team’s stadium.
Obama, 57 and famously smooth with a basketball, told a boys’ team and girls’ team facing off in a softball scrimmage that his skills at bat were not ready for prime time. “My game is so raggedy that, if it was captured on camera that I struck out, it would be super embarrassing.”
When the players didn’t appear ready to give him a pass, he offered, “Do you want to see me hit?” Then shrugged, “Okay,” and joined the girls’ team.
“We wanted to see him hit,” Chanelle Waterstrat, 13, told PEOPLE afterward. “We were expecting maybe a grounder. We were shocked. He hit a double — on the first pitch! He said his game was trashed. Yeah. It wasn’t trashed.”
Over on the football field, Obama threw a pass to 5th grader Steven Osborne — “He threw it strong, but it kinda wasn’t straight,” said Osborne, 10, who caught it and ran it in for a touchdown. “The guys jumped on me. I heard Barack Obama say ‘Where’s my man?’ And he said ‘good job’ and he helped me up.”
Osborne noted that he was born the same year that Obama was first elected to the White House. And Waterstrat said that when Obama paused to take some questions from the students, it was clear they were missing him in office. “We asked him about the current president. And we asked him to come back.”
The president told the student athletes that the ball is now in their court.
“When I see what you guys are doing, I think everybody here, if you guys work hard — work hard in school, listen to your coaches — you guys are going to do great things,” Obama said. “So I’m going to be on the lookout for you because I think you are going to do great things. You guys are going to make a real difference; we’re going to be really proud of you.”
Waterstrat didn’t get to see the former president score for her team. As soon as he got his hit and trotted to second base, he called for a pinch runner so he could continue on to the farmers’ market before heading home.
“We love you!” some kids called to him. “Love you, too!” he replied.