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Alito trades robe for Devil Rays jersey

Associate Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito throws out the first pitch before a spring training baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Saturday, March 10, 2007, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Associate Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito throws out the first pitch before a spring training baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Saturday, March 10, 2007, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. --Samuel Alito liked being on this bench, too. Dressed in a green Devil Rays jersey instead of a black robe, the Supreme Court justice stood in the dugout Saturday, getting ready to throw out the first ball before Tampa Bay played his favorite team, the Philadelphia Phillies. Asked what he would throw, Alito said, "A gyroball."

Devil Rays reliever Ruddy Lugo drew the assignment of catching Alito. The justice offered an opinion on how to frame the pitch.

"Make it look like a strike," Alito told Lugo.

"I'm a pitcher. I like strikes," Lugo answered.

Alito trotted to the mound, briefly pawed the rubber and delivered a good, firm toss.

The court's newest justice -- and big baseball fan -- was in town to give the keynote address at a legal dinner. His remarks Thursday were rife with mentions of the game. Hall of Famer Robin Roberts, one of Alito's boyhood inspirations, was in attendance.

"One of the things I am asked is if I believe in a living Constitution," Alito said in his speech, referring to a thought that the Constitution can reflect the times. "Umpires face this very same problem. For example, do we want a living strike zone?"

The right-hander should hope so. His opening pitch was a bit high -- the Devil Rays' furry mascot generously called it a strike.

Alito watched the exhibition from an upstairs suite. He saw Ryan Howard, one of the players he really likes, deliver a first-inning run with a sacrifice fly.

"I think the Phillies have a good shot this year," Alito said. "The Braves, the Mets, the Phillies. It's a balanced division. A lot of them are."

On Friday night, Alito saw the Devil Rays play the New York Yankees. Tampa Bay is perennially in last place, but Alito saw promise.

"They have a good, young outfield," he said. "We've seen several teams in the last few years show a lot of improvement."

"This is the time of year when hope springs eternal," he said.

Alito was born in Trenton, N.J., and at 56 has always followed the Phillies. He spent 15 years on the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit before he was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice in January 2006.

Alito gets to Citizens Bank Park when he can, and liked going to Veterans Stadium. He fondly recalls his early days at Connie Mack Stadium.

"We didn't have a lot of money growing up, so we'd go to the doubleheaders to get two games for the price of one," he said. "We'd always end up moving down toward right field. I kind of adopted Johnny Callison out there."

As a kid, Alito said he played second base. And he played it pretty well, in his opinion.

"I thought so," he said, "until the pitchers started throwing curveballs."

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Associated Press Writer Phil Davis contributed to this report.

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