Vahe Gregorian

Royals put imprint on White House

The Royals’ visit to the White House to be honored by President Barack Obama wasn’t just frivolity. It meant something deeper, especially at a time when Kansas City is stuck at 47-47 and politics are mired in partisan battles.
The Royals’ visit to the White House to be honored by President Barack Obama wasn’t just frivolity. It meant something deeper, especially at a time when Kansas City is stuck at 47-47 and politics are mired in partisan battles. jsleezer@kcstar.com

A surreal scene with the Royals swarming the White House on Thursday included President Barack Obama making approving reference to Jarrod Dyson’s “That’s what speed do” motto.

“I love this quote,” Obama said.

It featured the commander in chief wondering if press secretary/Royals fan Josh Earnest drops “Fetty Wap” mentions into news conferences like Royals players do.

It extended to the leader of the free world reminding of the “hashtag ‘Yosted’ ” term frequently used to denounce manager Ned Yost before he morphed into King Midas.

Meanwhile, among moments behind the scenes of this celebration of the 2015 world champions, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez stood with chins in hand in tribute to a portrait of Abraham Lincoln behind them.

All images that would have been rather secondary if Perez hadn’t been persuaded not to try to bathe Obama in a Salvy Splash.

“I wanted to,” Perez said, with his mischievous grin. “People tell me, like, ‘No, Salvy.’ 

For all the frivolity of this once-in-a-generation-plus affair, though, this day was about something more substantial.

It was about sheer appreciation, both of why the Royals were here and of the spectacle around them.

And just maybe it was all the more moving because of the muck they’re stuck in now at a mere 47-47, at once a reminder of how hard it is to repeat and what it meant to win it all.

Even in the moments after the triumph in the 2015 World Series, ending a 30-year championship void that had been dominated by decades of futility, general manager Dayton Moore barely paused to bask in it.

Months later at spring training, he said he’d never stopped to process it and had fixed his mind on moving forward.

On Thursday, though, Moore said he had never felt more touched and even referred to a “numbness” that came over him.

“Today, I probably did more reflecting about our journey than I did at any other time. And it’s special,” he said, adding that simply hearing Obama say his name was “overwhelming. It gives you a great sense of pride, a feeling of accomplishment and a lot of joy.”

Alex Gordon would talk about “goosebumps” surging through him when he heard Obama mention his name, and Hosmer was humbled by the same. Yost thought about “the wonder” on so many faces.

You didn’t have to be an American citizen to feel that way, either.

Perez, a Venezuelan, said simply, “That’s a lot, to meet the president of the United States.”

Maybe no one or no one thing said it better than this, though, after the Royals’ first visit here since President Ronald Reagan was in the White House.

Kelvin Herrera, a Dominican, posted a picture on Twitter of himself standing behind Obama’s left shoulder while countryman Edinson Volquez stood behind his right.

“I’m just a kid from Tenares, Dominican Republic,” he wrote, adding an icon of a Dominican flag and “#POTUS.”

That was an eloquent part of a sense of inclusiveness in all this.

At a time when political partisanship often seems synonymous with hostility, the occasion provided a refreshing pause for civility and decency.

Upon seeing a picture tweeted of himself and Kansas City Mayor Sly James greeting a packed room of Royals fans, Rep. Kevin Yoder, a Kansas Republican, retweeted it and wrote, “Bipartisan celebration!”

As Obama introduced dignitaries, he made a point of calling former Republican Sen. Bob Dole “a true American patriot … and one of the finest public servants America has ever known.”

In fact, you wouldn’t really have known anyone’s politics were of any significance here … other than in good humor.

“Last year, fans swamped the All-Star balloting process to the point that it looked like the entire starting lineup was going to be Royals,” Obama said. “And as a Chicago guy, I appreciate that. Vote early, vote often.”

No one so much as dropped a prevalent and euphemistically rude line about just “respecting the office” instead of the man himself.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

“President Obama was so gracious and so friendly and engaging to all of us and our families,” Moore said. “It really made your heart feel good.”

It’s entirely possible that no one’s heart felt better than Earnest’s, the Barstow School graduate and true fan.

When he was named press secretary in May 2014, before the Royals had returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1985, the news release included that he was a “lifelong Royals fan.”

In the spring of 2014, when he still was principal deputy press secretary, Earnest wrote the response to a petition to make opening day a national holiday.

“While we are sympathetic to your pitch make Opening Day a national holiday, it’s a little outside our strike zone: creating permanent federal holidays is traditionally the purview of Congress,” he wrote, in part.

In his office adorned with a number of Royals artifacts, he smiled Thursday as he recalled how he ended it.

“To celebrate Opening Day, we’ll be honoring the 2013 World Series champions, the Boston Red Sox, here at the White House,” he wrote. “... Meanwhile, I’ll spend that day visualizing what it would be like to welcome my 2014 World Series Champion Kansas City Royals to the White House.

“That is, after all, the best part of Opening Day: every team is tied for first place and poised to make a run at the Fall Classic.”

Even if he was off by a year, no wonder Earnest was in the middle of a White House video announcing their visit (wearing a Royals cap and drinking from his blue Royals mug as he used a hose to fill an orange jug while saying, “We’re getting ready for you, Salvy.”)

And no surprise that he put on his special Royals socks when he went to work Thursday — a day a colleague joked was like Earnest’s inauguration day.

His day was made early when Yost, Perez and Hosmer interrupted his White House news briefing to present him with his own jersey, a Perez-signed ball and a mug.

But lest you think Earnest was fully responsible for Obama’s apparently keen understanding of the Royals, Earnest reminded people that the president is a true sports fan.

Obama’s interest in baseball might be more casual than it is in the NFL and NBA, Earnest said, but he likes to watch the playoffs when he can — and the Royals story resonated with him.

“Having a homegrown team that doesn’t have one big star that really comes together and has a clear connection to the community and fan base, those are the kind of characteristics that really appeal to a guy who’s spent his career as an underdog,” he said.

Indeed, Obama referred repeatedly to that trait of the 2015 Royals, citing their grittiness and penchant for comebacks and prevailing in “white-knuckle” games and an all-for-one formula.

To that point, Obama remarked on Christian Colon coming through in the 12th inning of the clinching Game 5 against the Mets … in his first at-bat of the postseason.

“Somebody who hadn’t been used a lot, then suddenly coming up big when the moment arrived for him,” Obama said. “That’s exactly the ‘keep the line moving’ mentality that’s defined this team.”

And now just another Royals catchphrase entered into the White House lexicon after a day to pause and appreciate, the sort that might only come around every 30 years or so.

President Obama welcomes World Series champion Royals to the White House

Highlights of the World Series champion Royals' visit to the White House 

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian

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