Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reacts after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the game between the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on July 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. Image Credit: AFP

President Donald Trump reportedly caught both White House aides and the New York Yankees by surprise when he said Thursday at a White House coronavirus briefing that he was accepting an invitation by the team to throw out a ceremonial first pitch and would do so on Aug. 15.

Trump backtracked from that plan on Sunday, saying in a tweet that he would not be able to throw out the pitch that day because a "strong focus on the China Virus, including scheduled meetings on Vaccines, our economy and much else" would prevent him from traveling to New York at that time.

By that time, White House staff had informed the Yankees that Trump had an unspecified prior engagement on Aug. 15, according to a report Monday in The New York Times. Trump did have a standing invitation to throw out a first pitch from Yankees President Randy Levine, whom he called a "great friend," but nothing specific had been arranged.

A senior administration official familiar with the president's planned schedule confirmed to The Washington Post on Monday that no such trip to New York was in the works before Trump announced it, and that he caught some aides by surprise with that declaration.

Trump's comments from a White House podium happened to occur just hours before MLB's coronavirus-delayed Opening Day was set to begin with a game between the visiting Yankees and the Washington Nationals. Throwing out the first pitch for that much-anticipated event was Anthony S. Fauci, the Trump administration's top infectious-disease official.

Trump was irritated that Fauci was given the honor, the Times reported, citing an official familiar with his reaction. Not to be outdone, he reportedly told his staff to get in touch with the Yankees and take Levine up on his offer, but then the president went ahead and threw a curveball at the coronavirus briefing with his claim that he would take the mound on Aug. 15.

A Yankees spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday's report. ESPN had reported Thursday that the team confirmed Trump would throw out a first pitch "at some point this season."

While polls show Trump getting poor marks from most Americans for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, to the point where his reelection chances are imperiled, Fauci has been seen by many as a trusted, if not outright admired, figure. Trump has made critical remarks about Fauci this month, and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has been allowed fewer chances to deliver his advice on containing the health crisis.

A 79-year-old whose face mask of choice during the pandemic has made clear he is a big fan of the Nationals, Fauci told the Times on Monday that he was invited to throw the first pitch several weeks ago by the Lerner family, which owns the team and was grateful for his coronoavirus-related guidance.

The day before his big moment on the mound, Fauci got some tips from Nats star Ryan Zimmerman, who tried to soothe the nerves of the former high school basketball standout by reminding him that MLB is not allowing fans in the stands. "If you bounce it, there's nobody there to boo you, so you'll be good to go," said Zimmerman.

Unfortunately for Fauci, he didn't just bounce the ball, but failed to get it anywhere close to home plate. He told the Times that he practiced diligently but made a major mistake by having "completely miscalculated" the distance he would need to cover with his pitch, which threw off his form.

Asked what advice he would offer Trump, Fauci said it would be to "throw high" and with "a big loft."

Trump has thrown first pitches in the past, including at a 2006 Yankees game against the Red Sox at Boston's Fenway Park, but he has yet to do so since the 2016 election. That has him running out of time in his first term to avoid becoming the first sitting president in more than 100 years not to perform the ceremony.

When the Nationals were in the World Series last year, playing some of the games just three miles from the White House, Trump said he would not throw out a first pitch. "They've got to dress me up in a lot of heavy armor - I'll look too heavy," he said at the time.

The president did attend Game 5 of the championship series at Nationals Park, at which point he was booed loudly.

In his tweet Sunday bowing out of the first pitch on Aug. 15, Trump said, "We will make it later in the season!" However, developments Monday raised questions about how realistic MLB is being about trying to play a truncated season even as new coronavirus cases have risen to unprecedented levels nationally over the past month.

The Yankees' game Monday against the host Philadelphia Phillies was postponed after an outbreak hit the Miami Marlins, who had just played in Philadelphia. Miami's home game against the Baltimore Orioles was also postponed, as was a scheduled game between those teams on Tuesday.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said Monday that if coronavirus test results proved "acceptable," the Marlins and Orioles would resume play on Wednesday, but the episode has rattled some clubhouses.

"My level of concern went from about an eight to a 12," said Nationals Manager Dave Martinez, a 55-year-old who had a health scare last season.

"Baseball aside wanting the season to continue, but you got to put that on the back burner right now and say, all right, how do we keep everybody safe? And we know somebody might have to make a hard decision," Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Josh Lindblom told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Monday.

Looking at the bigger picture, Fauci struck a hopeful note Monday as he told CNN he was "cautiously optimistic" about a potential coronavirus vaccine now entering the first in a series of U.S. clinical trials. Fauci said he briefed Trump on the development, which involves a test of the possible vaccine on 15,000 people while another 15,000 participants receive a placebo.