The East Room of the White House is a large and luxurious events space that stretches the width of the first floor, a banquet hall that often holds receptions for foreign dignitaries and the signing of historic legislation. In 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a native Kansan, took the presidential oath of office here. In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev sat in this room and signed a list of treaties that marked the final years of the Cold War.
The East Room is adorned with gold curtains and high white ceilings and glittering chandeliers, and on Thursday afternoon, in the minutes after noon, the room was filled with an exuberant din, the chant that has come to define a baseball renaissance in Kansas City.
“Let’s go Roy-als! … Let’s go Roy-als!”
The noise started small, echoing off the curtained walls, enveloping a room with senators and congressmen and baseball Hall of Famers and a few fortunate fans who had scored invites to this official celebration for the 2015 World Series champions. Up on the risers, standing behind the president of the United States, Royals left fielder Alex Gordon felt chills run through his body. Down in the front row, White House press secretary Josh Earnest, a Kansas City native, sat and looked around the room, wondering if this could be the best day of his career. In the middle of it all, first baseman Eric Hosmer marveled at the absurdity of the scene.
A decade ago, the Royals lost 100 games for the third time in four years and were firmly entrenched as one of the worst franchises in all of sports. On Thursday, they journeyed to the White House to meet President Barack Obama and celebrate their world championship. And in the moments before the ceremony, and in the moments after, in a room sprinkled with politicians and Royals hats, the same chant rang out.
“Let’s go Roy-als!”
“Just like no one really hears ‘Let’s go Royals’ chants in New York, we heard it in the White House, too,” Hosmer said. “We’ve done a good job of bringing that chant to places people don’t expect it.”
The audience, which packed into the room and stood on side aisles, offered the soundtrack for the ceremony. The role of narrator belonged to President Obama, who walked out flanked by Royals owner David Glass and team president Dan Glass. In a little under 15 minutes, Obama delivered an address that commemorated the Royals’ championship run, honored the performance of its key players and focused on the connection between a city and sports franchise.
“Let’s give it up for the World Series champions, the Kansas City Royals,” Obama said, moments after stepping behind a microphone. “I know many of you had been waiting a long time to hear this, so I’ll say it again — the World Series champion Kansas City Royals.”
As the Royals stood on risers at the front of the room, Obama retraced the steps of the franchise, mentioning the dark years following the 1985 World Series championship, before pivoting to the arrival of general manager Dayton Moore in 2006 and manager Ned Yost in 2010.
Moore “coupled some of baseball’s sharpest analytics minds with Ned’s managerial style, which has produced a lot of wins,” Obama said. “Not to mention his own Twitter hashtag — hashtag Yosted.”
The line elicited laughter from the crowd. It also characterized the light, cheerful mood inside the room. In one moment, Obama joked with Earnest, a longtime member of his administration who grew up a Royals fan in Kansas City and graduated from the Barstow School. In another moment, he honored Gordon, Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas while poking fun at their simple nicknames.
“You’ve got an offense led by homegrown guys like Alex ‘Gordo’ Gordon and Mike ‘Moose’ Moustakas. Eric ‘Hos’ Hosmer. World (Series) MVP Salvador ‘Salvy’ Perez. These guys are all great players. Can I say, though, the nicknames aren’t that creative. It’s like, Barack ‘Barack’ Obama. You know? I mean, listen to this — Hos, Moose, Gordo — we’re going to have to work on these.”
As the audience laughed, Obama turned to the Royals’ speed, athleticism and contact-hitting style, pausing to look toward outfielder Jarrod Dyson.
“As Jarrod Dyson puts it, ‘That’s what speed do,’ ” Obama said. “ ‘That’s what speed do.’ That was a good quote.”
As Obama finished his remarks, highlighting the Royals’ championship run, he celebrated the new Urban Youth Academy project in Kansas City, spearheaded by Moore and the organization. He referenced the financial contributions from Hosmer, Moustakas, Gordon and pitcher Chris Young. He mentioned the importance of such projects.
“What’s great is the academy is built right next to the Negro Leagues Museum,” Obama said. “So you can see the link between Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige, to Frank White and to George Brett, to Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon, and the next generation of Kansas City baseball stars. And you see that continuity and understand how central this game is to America.
“So I want to thank this group for not only writing the current chapter, but hopefully writing the next chapter of our national pastime, the great game of baseball.”
As Obama spoke, the audience included a list of politicians from both Kansas and Missouri. Former Sen. Bob Dole sat in the front row and was recognized by Obama at the beginning of his speech. Kansas City Mayor Sly James and Kansas City, Kan., Mayor Mark Holland were also there, as were former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a former member of Obama’s cabinet; Kansas Rep. Kevin Yoder; and Missouri congressman and former Kansas City Mayor Emanuel Cleaver. Near the back of the room sat Sri Srinivasan, a Lawrence native who serves as a judge on the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.
The Royals finished the ceremony by offering Obama a customized Royals jersey, adorned with No. 44, a nod to his place in presidential history. Moments later, Obama lingered in the front of the room, shaking hands with Dole and Labor Secretary Tom Perez. As the president exited, another “Let’s go Royals” chant began.
“You realized what we accomplished,” Hosmer said, standing outside the West Wing of the White House. “You realized how many are watching. And especially to see how many Kansas City fans are in the White House.”
Hours earlier, the Royals’ day had begun before 10 a.m. They boarded a bus for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and started the festivities by crashing a briefing inside the White House press room. As Earnest, a devoted Royals fan, stood behind a microphone and faced reporters, Hosmer, Perez and Yost barged out from behind a door. They delivered a personalized Royals jersey, a new World Series coffee mug and an autographed baseball.
By late in the afternoon, Earnest had the mug displayed on a shelf in his office, along with a host of other Royals memorabilia. As he sat in his office, Earnest recalled two stories: attending the 1985 World Series parade as a kid, and driving to a minor-league baseball game around eight or nine years ago, where he watched the Class A Wilmington Blue Rocks play the Potomac Nationals. The desire was simple, Earnest said. He wanted to see the Royals’ next crop of prospects. He wanted hope for the future.
On Thursday, some of those prospects stood on risers in the White House, a symbol of the transformation in Kansas City. And Moore, a stoic baseball man who often hides his emotions, couldn’t help but feel moved by the scene.
“Today really kind of touched me more than any other time in my baseball career,” Moore said.
The trip to Washington, D.C., came on an off day as the current version of the Royals is stuck at 47-47, treading water as the trade deadline approaches. The contrast was not lost on those here Thursday. But perhaps it helped remind them just how precious and rare the 2015 season had been.
On the risers stood Edinson Volquez and Alcides Escobar and Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis and Kendrys Morales and nearly every key member of the 2015 Royals except Ben Zobrist and Johnny Cueto (who couldn’t attend) and Lorenzo Cain, who was rehabbing a hamstring injury back at home.
“What we accomplished as a group is something that’s going to be remembered forever,” Hosmer said.
After gifting a jersey to Earnest, the Royals headed for an official tour and some behind-the-scenes access. Hosmer and Perez posed for photos in front of a painting of Abraham Lincoln. The Royals shared the day with family members and spouses.
At just before noon, the traveling party lined the perimeter of a large room adjacent to the East Room. Moments later, Obama strolled in and moved through the line, shaking hands and introducing himself.
“It kind of gave me goosebumps to actually hear the president say your name,” Gordon said. “That was a pretty special moment.”
In the moments after the ceremony, Gordon, Hosmer and Perez pushed through a back doorway and headed for an official media session outside the West Wing. Moore and Yost joined the three players. A large row of cameras awaited them. Hosmer paused for a selfie with the White House in the background. A TV reporter from ABC asked for recommendation for Kansas City barbecue. Moore took a deep breath and reflected on the day.
“You don’t often have a calmness or a numbness to your being,” Moore said. “But today, I did.”
The official ceremony was done. The Royals prepared to board a plane back to Kansas City and a begin three-game series with the Texas Rangers. It had been 263 days since the Royals had lifted the World Series championship trophy at Citi Field. But for one more moment, Hosmer could imagine himself in two places — a baseball stadium in New York and a riser in the East Room of the White House. In both places, the sound was the same.
“We were all standing on the stage, and everybody is kind of looking around,” Hosmer said. “You look at all the faces, of the people on the team — you look at all the faces of the people throughout everybody’s families. You realize everybody is a part of this.”