President Obama honors 2015 World Series champs, who reflect on season
By Richard Justice
WASHINGTON -- President Obama stood there smiling and playful in front of the Kansas City Royals on Thursday, leading the audience in cheers for catcher Salvador Perez and first baseman Eric Hosmer, for general manager Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost and all the rest.
The president poked fun at some of the nicknames -- for instance, Salvy and Hoz -- even as he praised all the Royals for their resilience and resolve. He spoke of how they'd done things a certain way and been at their unshakable best when the stakes were highest.
"One of the grittiest, most complete teams we've seen in a long time," Obama said. "[It's a] 'keep the line moving' mentality. Guys aren't in it for themselves. They're in it for each other, both on and off the diamond."
This is one of the rites of passage for a World Series champion, this stroll through the White House to be honored by the president. Kansas City embraced it in every way, soaking up the adulation and enjoying a break from another grueling fight for a postseason berth.
Before the players joined the gathering in the East Room for the ceremony with President Obama, an audience of Royals family members and VIP visitors from Missouri and Kansas broke into an impromptu chant of "Lets go Royals!"
Sometimes, small moments mean so much. For Kansas City, this day was about more than simply winning a championship. It was an affirmation for what the club stands for in baseball.
It is a model franchise in every way, beginning with owner David Glass, whose patience and leadership paved the way for the rebirth of the sport in one of the country's great baseball cities.
This was also a reminder that the Royals see their mission as more than simply winning baseball games, that they are just as committed to being good citizens of their community.
President Obama praised them for the construction of an Urban Youth Academy in Kansas City and the hope it offers for future generations. He liked the symbolism of it being constructed near the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
"It's to help young people to not just steer clear of drugs and gangs, but also learn skills that can lead to a better future," Obama said. "Not just playing baseball, but learning about advanced stats and broadcasting and sports writing and having access to advanced internships and scholarships."
The president remembered how the Royals had come up a few feet short in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, and how they won in '15 by winning two straight elimination games in the American League Division Series against the Astros, then surviving a tough six-game AL Championship Series against the Blue Jays.
Finally, Kansas City won the franchise's first World Series in 30 years, aided by Hosmer's daring game-tying sprint home in Game 5 at Citi Field against the Mets.
This celebration was for all those things, and also for how Glass hired Moore in 2006 and gave him the time and resources to build a great franchise. There were some speed bumps along the way, but Glass never wavered in his belief in his general manager.
In turn, Moore stayed the course with his manager, Yost, and with his homegrown guys, including Hosmer, Perez, Mike Moustakas and others.
"When we were all standing on the stage and everybody is kind of looking around, you look at all the faces of the people on the team and the families [in the audience]," Hosmer said. "You realize everybody was a part of this, and it's special to have 'em here. What we accomplished as a group is something that's going to be remembered forever. It's a blessing."
Last spring, when baseball people were asked what they'd learned by watching the Royals, they praised a style of play based on defense, speed and a great bullpen. But larger than any of that is that Glass stayed the course and allowed Moore and Yost to finish what they started.
"Today, I probably did more reflecting back on our journey than any other time," Moore said. "It gives your heart a lot of joy. You feel it for our fans. You feel it for our players who've had to persevere. It's our front office. It's the Glass family, who has been there from the beginning. Today touched me more than any other time than in my baseball career."
There was something else about this Kansas City club that almost everyone noticed. Because so many of the players had been drafted and developed by the organization, there was a closeness that isn't always the norm in professional sports.
One Royals pitcher, Dillon Gee, a free-agent signee during the offseason, said he could tell by watching them on television in the postseason that they were "a tight-knit group, a bunch of guys that had each others' back."
Alex Gordon, who was drafted No. 2 overall by Kansas City in 2005 and endured all the ups and downs of a growing franchise, understood that feeling.
"When you get here to the White House, you just think of the past year and how special it was," Gordon said. "Just the group of guys we had and how well we played together and how much fun we had. It's like a family. You always say you've got to have fun to play this game, and that's really what it was.
"Ned Yost and Dayton had to be patient with us. We had the right guys. It just took a while to kind of get that winning attitude and atmosphere. To be here and hear the chants and meet the president, it's really been quite the journey. It's been pretty amazing to share with this group of people. When you hear the president say your name, it gives you goosebumps. The whole experience has been pretty remarkable."
The Royals flew in on Wednesday night and got a tour of the White House and a history lesson on Thursday morning before meeting with President Obama. They were then honored in front of an audience that included family remembers and an assortment of VIPs, including former Kansas Senator Bob Dole.
"To hear about the history of the White House puts a lot of things in perspective," Moore said. "You realize what an unbelievable country we have, and President Obama was so gracious and so friendly and so engaging to all of us and our families. It really made your heart feel good. You don't often have a calmness or a numbness to your being. But today, I did."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.