Barack Obama placed his left hand on Abraham Lincoln's bible and was sworn in Tuesday as the 44th president of the United States, becoming the first African-American to fill that office as the eyes of the world looked upon a stunning and peaceful transfer of power that is as beautiful an American tradition as Opening Day itself.
"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America," President Obama said in a stern-toned, serious speech to an estimated two million citizens on the Mall in Washington, and to an immeasurable viewing audience globally that included baseball fans here on MLB.com.
Under the Constitution, Obama became president at noon ET, even though he had not formally been sworn in with the inaugural ceremonies running behind schedule. Using his full name, Barack Hussein Obama, the new president took the oath of office at 12:05 p.m. from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
The mood appeared unmatched in the modern history of inaugurations, and the people filling the grounds were baseball people, too. The national pastime is an institution that is right alongside such institutions as a new presidency, reverberating with John Phillip Souza's thunderous rhythms and spine-tingling pomp and circumstance.
When Obama first walked through the door in the Capitol to overlook that amazing sea of humanity, it was breathtaking and forever memorable. It was about the continuity of government, just as April will bring the continuity of baseball. Obama will be there in a very traditional capacity for that as well, expected to throw out a ceremonial first pitch for his beloved White Sox team's first homestand -- and probably also for the Washington Nationals as well, in keeping with presidential history.
As the crowd chanted "O-ba-ma, O-ba-ma," the president thanked his predecessor, George W. Bush, and said he was "humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors."
Obama acknowledged that "we are in the midst of crisis." He enters the Oval Office for his first 100 days inheriting a nation full of turbulence, mired in a horrible recession and with U.S. troops still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred," he said. "Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many, and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet."
Saying "the time has come to set aside childish things," Obama declared: "Today, I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time.
"But know this, America -- they will be met."
Obama became the third president from the state of Illinois, following Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. Notably, Obama also just became the first president since January 1989, not named Bush or Clinton -- exactly two decades in the making.
"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord," Obama said. "On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances that have dogged us and strangled our policies.
"We remain a young nation, but in the word of scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things, the time has come to renew our veteran spirit ... to carry on the precious gift ... that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to defend their measure of the pursuit of happiness."
Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.