COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (AP) — As the bronze plaque of hard-throwing slugger Babe Ruth glistened behind him, President Barack Obama on Thursday pitched the United States as a destination spot for travelers, casting tourism as a job-creator that can offer a needed boost to a recovering economy.
Using the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum as his backdrop, Obama made a case for attracting more foreign visitors and helping a sector of the economy that has increasingly brought in more money but still faces competition from abroad.
"When it comes to tourism, we have a great product to sell," he said. "Nothing says 'Made in America' better than the Empire State Building or the Hoover Dam."
His visit to the 75-year-old museum, which attracts nearly 300,000 visitors a year, was the first by a sitting president. Obama, an avid ESPN watcher and sports fan, was clearly in his element. He noted, with amusement, that the exhibits included the jacket he wore while throwing out the first pitch at the 2009 All-Star Game. Then, recalling the ridicule he received for wearing "mom jeans" that evening, he added sheepishly, "Michelle retired those jeans quite a while back."
Two years ago, Obama acted to speed the processing of visa for tourists from China and Brazil. On Thursday, he tackled the flip side of the problem: long waits for processing at U.S. airports and other ports of entry once tourists arrive.
Earlier Thursday, Obama signed a presidential memorandum giving his homeland security and commerce secretaries four months to come up with a plan to streamline the entry process for tourists and reduce wait times. He also asked the departments to work with the 15 largest U.S. airports, following steps taken by Dallas-Fort Worth and Chicago international airports to cut wait times.
During his museum tour, Obama held Babe Ruth's baseball bat, palmed the ball thrown in 1910 by President William Howard Taft, the first president to make a ceremonial pitch, examined a ball recovered from the rubble of the Twin Towers and marveled at the shoes worn by Shoeless Joe Jackson. "He had small feet," Obama observed.
At a display on the integration of baseball that featured Jackie Robinson and his retired Dodgers' jersey, Obama said: "Got to have everybody on the field." Told Robinson was hit by a pitch seven times in his first months in the major leagues, Obama replied: "Interesting to note."