“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.” Continue reading

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A Field Guide to Embedded Journalism

Photo by Alyssa Schukar of The Omaha World-Herald taken in Afghanistan on April 7, 2011, after she and my friend Joe Morton, a writer, were in a firefight with a National Guard squadron with which they were embedded. To understand the scale, consider that's an armored vehicle and a National Guardsmen in silhouette to the vehicle's right.

SILVER SPRING, Md. — After showing me video he shot from the war zone and telling me the stories of life as an embed, friend Joe Morton — the Joseph Morton, Washington correspondent for The Omaha World-Herald — came upon this photo taken by his colleague, Alyssa Schukar.

“This is my favorite,” he pointed.

The photo, shown big enough to fill a laptop screen, is striking. There is a solitary figure in the distance next to an immense and armored vehicle, and yet both are dwarfed by the landscape around it. The mountains rise up in three levels like rolling waves, one almost more impossibly tall then the next, and they overwhelm the image. Joe explained to me that that’s why he likes it. The picture shows the impenetrable terrain the military is dealing with in Afghanistan — even as it serves as a metaphor for the war effort itself. The enormity of the challenge is difficult to comprehend let alone tame. There is also the possibility that this picture means a lot to Joe because of when it was taken and what it represents: survival.

I had the chance today to catch up with Joe, a dear friend from college, at the start of a whirlwind trip to Washington, D.C. Today started with the final morning of Winter Warm-up. Then it was off to the airport to catch a flight to D.C. where on Tuesday I’ll join the Cardinals on their visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and follow them to the White House for the customary reception champions get with the president. A seat, I’m told, is waiting for me in the East Room. From the White House, I have approximately four hours to race to BWI, write a story, and catch the last flight to St. Louis out of the Beltway so I can make the family vacation to Curacao.

On my mark. Get set. Here we go. Continue reading