Coming from a Chicago White Sox fan, it may have seemed like President Barack Obama’s comments at the White House Monday were proof he has been converted to North Side fandom — and the Cubs certainly thought so.
“Do know, that among Sox fans, I am the Cubs’ number one fan,” Obama said as he honored the World Series Champions.
The visit marked the last event to be held at the White House during Obama’s preidency, he said.
“I will say to the Cubs it took you long enough,” Obama said. “I’ve only got four days left.”
Though he may pledge allegiance to the team’s longtime rivals, even Obama had to admit he was swept away by the Cubs’ 2016 season.
“Even I was not crazy enough to suggest that during these eight years we would see the Cubs win the World Series, but I did say that there has never been anything false about hope,” Obama said. “Hope — the audacity of hope. Yes we can.”
In a speech that was saturated with funny anecdotes and sincere appreciation, Obama noted that this World Series win may have meant more to fans than ever before.
“The truth is there was a reason not just that people felt good about the Cubs winning, there was something about this particular Cubs team winning that people felt good about,” he said before honoring each player for their achievements in the historic season that ended a 108-year drought.
In describing what was “widely considered one of the greatest Game 7’s of all time,” Obama ran through a play-by-play of the gut-wrenching moments that had Cubs fans on the edge of their seats that fateful November night.
“Suddenly everything has changed,” Obama said. “No more black cats, billy goats, ghosts, flubbed grounders – the Chicago Cubs are the champs.”
Even though he made sure to honor the World Series champs themselves, he also noted the baseball legends who have made history with the team over the last century. Some of those players were also in attendance Monday, including Billy Williams, Ryne Sandberg, Fergie Jenkins and Jose Cardenal.
Monday’s visit was slightly unusual, as the reigning World Series champions normally make the traditional White House visit during the following MLB season. The Cubs were hoping to get to Washington, D.C., before Obama left office. Though the president is a White Sox fan, he calls Chicago home and rooted for the North Siders since his team didn’t make the playoffs.
“I was in my hometown of Chicago on Tuesday for my farewell address and I said sometimes it’s not enough just to change laws, you’ve got to change hearts and sports has a way of sometimes changing hearts in a way that politics or business doesn’t,” Obama noted.
During the event, Cubs president Theo Epstein first pardoned Obama “for all your indiscretions as a baseball fan” and welcomed him “with open arms today to the Cubs’ family.” The moment marked what he called a “terrific conversion,” celebrated with a series of gifts from the champions to the president himself.
Among the gifts were two jerseys with the no. 44, shared by first baseman Anthony Rizzo. One jersey read “Chicago Cubs,” but the second just read “Chicago,” in case the president wasn’t yet comfortable with displaying full Cubs pride.
In addition, the president was given a tile from Wrigley Field’s historic center field scoreboard, a W flag signed by the team, and a lifetime pass to Wrigley Field.
“We also wanted you to know that as a new fan you have some catching up to do,” Epstein said.
The president invited the Cubs to the White House in a phone call to Joe Maddon following the team’s victory, and with the club all assembled in Chicago for this weekend’s Cubs Convention, arranging travel to Washington D.C. was a solution that worked out well for the team to see the president.
While the Cubs’ visit to the White House comes just days before President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, the team will still have a connection to the new administration. Trump has nominated Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts as deputy commerce secretary. Ricketts joined his sister, co-owner Laura Ricketts, brother and co-owner Tom Ricketts, and the team at the presidential reception.
The Cubs are the second Chicago team to visit the Obama’s White House. The president also hosted the Chicago Blackhawks after their three Stanley Cup championships since 2010.
After the ceremony, the Cubs were expected to visit patients at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C., before returning to Chicago, according to MLB officials.