SKOWHEGAN — The Rev. Mark Tanner loves politics.

Tanner, pastor at the Federated Church on Island Avenue in Skowhegan, also loves baseball.

So when President Barack Obama came to Maine last week, Tanner thought he’d combine his twin passions and get the president to sign a baseball.

And it wasn’t just any baseball.

This one, a Rawlings official major league baseball, had come from the estate of the late great Yankee Clipper, Joe DiMaggio, centerfielder for the New York Yankees from 1936 to 1951, and it has been signed by every U.S. president since Richard Nixon with the exception of George W. Bush.

Obama would be the seventh.

“This baseball represents a couple of things,” Tanner, 58, said. “It represents for me my love of baseball, but also, too, it represents to me a love and a passion that I have for politics.”

Tanner said the ball also gives him pause to reflect on a time when opposing players respected one another and a time in American politics when there was less negative campaign advertising.

“That baseball for me represents love of country,” he said. “It came from Joe DiMaggio, and when I think about him and his love for the game and his love, too, for his county, I think I’m carrying on a tradition that Joe DiMaggio started and I hope I can continue it for a while.”

Tanner said Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, took the ball to Portland for him to get signed by the president on Thursday. The ball was put on a table for the president to see; and as he passed by, Obama picked the ball up and signed it.

Tanner said he bought the signed baseball in 2006 from the DiMaggio estate in North Carolina. DiMaggio died in March 1999 at age 84. He played all 13 years of his major league career with the Yankees, interrupted by the three years he spent in the military during World War II.

Tanner said he originally was interested in buying some baseball memorabilia from the estate — signed baseballs perhaps. He said he learned of the presidents baseball from a friend. The ball was vetted for authentication and he bought it. Tanner said he has the certification paper authenticating that DiMaggio himself got the five signatures Tanner didn’t get.

When President Bill Clinton came to Maine to campaign for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Elizabeth Mitchell four years ago, Tanner said a friend of his, Ben Cayford of Smart & Edwards Funeral Home in Skowhegan, called the office of 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and explained the situation.

“I’d say it was 10 minutes of four on an afternoon on a Sunday, and Mike Michaud called back and said, ‘If you want to get that ball signed, I can get Clinton’s signature on it; but you need to have the ball down here by 5:30,” Tanner said. “Ben called me on the phone and said, ‘Mark, I’m picking you up in five minutes. Be ready. Have the baseball with you.’ We were in his car in a matter of 10 minutes and we bee-lined it down to Southern Maine Community College.

“Clinton loved it. He signed it and he tossed it back to me and said, ‘You’ve got something really, really nice here.’ It was pretty cool.”

The baseball, which is kept in a safe deposit box away from his home and the church, is signed by Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and now, Barack Obama.

“My next goal is to get George W.’s signature. He’s my next one; he’s my last one,” Tanner said. “We’ve been working on getting George W.’s signature for a while. I’ve written to him, and we figure it’s going to come to fruition sometime soon and we’ll be able to get that signature.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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