“There Will Be No Baseballs in the White House”

WASHINGTON — The official invitation instructed us to meet at the White House’s Southeast Gate at 2:15 local time, and from across the street it was clear we were going in the right direction.

A line of people had already formed, and their plumage gave them away as Cardinals fans.

Many were wearing Cardinals caps. A few had “World Series championship” hats on or headgear with some other variation of the team’s logo. Some of the ties that looked simply Cardinal red from a block away proved instead to be dotted with small baseballs, subtle Cardinals logos or not-too-subtle interlocking STLs as Post-Dispatch Washington reporter Bill Lambrecht and I got closer and took our spots in line. With the exception of a few kids who clutched their baseballs tightly, it was hard then to tell how many in line had a baseball tucked into a pocket somewhere in hopes of getting it signed. They wouldn’t keep that secret for long. The Secret Service was on the lookout for baseballs.

“There will be no baseballs in the White House,” an agent tells us as we approach the first of two or three security screenings (it was hard to tell when one ended and another began). “Sorry folks. No baseballs.”

All of us have gathered at the White House to attend President Barack Obama’s meeting with the 2011 World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. We are the two ink-stained wretches in a line that, we learn as we wait, includes Missouri politicians and Obama fundraisers. This ceremony, a tradition for champions, has become a reunion of sorts for Obama’s leading fundraisers in the St. Louis area, and in an election year no less.

Bill and I are just covering the event, carrying pens we need for writing not signing.

I had just come with the team from Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Although the Cardinals arrived about an hour late to the campus — the buses had taken a detour to Walter Reed’s former site on the edge of D.C. — they spent more than 90 minutes visiting as many corners of the facility as possible. The Cardinals’ traveling party split into four groups, and I was assigned to one that included pitcher Chris Carpenter, World Series MVP David Freese, outfielder Allen Craig and closer Jason Motte. After a brisk walk through a hamster maze of corridors, we arrived at our destination: the Armed Forces Amputee Patient Care Program. (Add: The story that came from that visit is available online at StlToday.com.)

It didn’t take long before the Cardinals players fanned out through the rehab center to talk with patients and sign pennants and baseballs and pictures and hats for the service members who were introduced repeatedly as “wounded warriors.” Many of them greeted the Cardinals with an apology.

“I actually like the Cubs,” said one patient to Motte.

“Being here,” another said, “has helped me become a Nationals fan.”

As I wrote in the story for tomorrow’s paper (linked above) the Cardinals did meet several St. Louis natives, including one who ran through a few hallways and around two corners to catch up with Freese. Pitcher Kyle Lohse spent a long time talking with one of the recovering soldiers in the rehab clinic, and as the Cardinals were rounded up to leave for the next room, the wounded warrior called the righthander back.

“If I see you at Wrigley, I won’t boo,” he told Lohse.

“You’ll be the only one,” the pitcher replied.

With the exception of President Obama’s two references to his beloved Chicago White Sox and the First Lady’s opening line about her fondness for the Chicago Cubs, there were no conflicts of loyalty at the White House. About 175 of us sat in the East Room with another dozen or so members of the media on the edge of the room as the president welcomed the Cardinals and Mrs. Obama lauded their visit to Walter Reed this morning. (A view from my seat.) Bill wrote online immediately after the event how the president described the Cardinals as the “greatest comeback team in the history of baseball.” The Cardinals came bearing gifts, as all teams do. The Cardinals presented the president and his wife with jerseys that had the No. 44 on the back, and engraved World Series bats.

“I’m a little worried about giving my wife a bat,” Obama joked as Mrs. Obama took hold of hers.

I’m a little curious how the bat got through security.

There was at least one person in our line with a bat that he hoped to have signed by the Cardinals or the president or both. That didn’t make into the security hut, let alone through security as he was told quickly it wasn’t allowed in. Baseballs were also being confiscated. At first, an agent had two in one hand and a few more dangling from plastic bags in another hand. One of the bags still had a pen in it because, hey, if there isn’t a ball to sign why do you a need a pen? As we turned the corner to find the X-ray machine, a guard approached me.

“Is there a baseball in the backpack?” she asked.

“Only a computer and a few notepads. I’m a reporter.”

“There will be no baseballs in the White House,” the guard then said, turning her attention away from me. “They are … projectiles.”

On top of the X-ray machine was the reason for the constant reminder and the concern. There were two baskets filled with pyramids of baseballs. There was another, larger basket beside the X-ray attendant. More than half of the officials watching the security area had at least one baseball in their hand. They had enough for a good round of batting practice — more than enough to wonder what they planned to do with all these baseballs. Could they be donated to a local school? A Little League team? Would Cardinals Care swoop in and scoop up the confiscated leather for the Redbird Rookies program? Was the South Lawn large enough for a pickup game? Perhaps the president could sign a few balls and leave them lying around as surprises during the annual Easter Egg Roll.

Bill’s quick count pegged the number of baseballs surrendered at 50.

“Sorry, we can’t have baseballs in the White House,” another guard said as the next wave walked toward the X-ray. “Projectiles.”

“Like shoes?” a guest said.

“Like shoes,” an official said, drolly.

(17/366)

-30-

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