CHICAGO -- Hall of Famer Billy Williams was to attend a breakfast on Monday to celebrate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s holiday and listen to Ernest Gibson, who was to talk about his experiences with the civil rights movement. But Williams had to cancel. He joined the Cubs at the White House on Monday instead to celebrate the team's historic World Series championship.
"Going to see [President] Obama, who is the first black president, and celebrating Martin Luther King's birthday -- it'll be perfect for me," Williams said.
Obama invited the Cubs to the White House after they won the World Series and had hoped the team could get there before he left office.
"It's like history," Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode said. "This whole year has been history -- the Cubs winning the World Series, and now we have an opportunity to visit Obama in the White House, and we're visiting him on Martin Luther King's holiday. It's chilling, it's bone chilling to have all these experiences all at once."
Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward went to the White House when he was a rookie in 2009, but admitted this trip would be different.
"This is obviously the ultimate time to go to the White House as an athlete, to meet the President after winning a ring," Heyward said. "It's pretty cool and I think it's kind of a unique situation where we have the opportunity to maybe see two presidents in the same year if it works out that way. For Obama to be the one we get to see, obviously him being from Chicago, I feel like it's a unique opportunity."
The Cubs may get another invite after President-elect Donald Trump takes office. They're happy about this one and the timing.
"For me, being an African American, there's something about it," Heyward said. "For my teammates who are from Venezuela, there's something about it for them, too -- and guys who are from Alabama and Mississippi, there's something about it for them, as well. Yeah, for me, who I am, who I was born to be, yeah, there's something special about it. There's a lot of significance for a lot of different reasons."
Strode watched Obama's farewell address, which the President delivered from Chicago last Tuesday, and was moved.
"When you start listening to him talk and you're watching him, you can't leave the TV," Strode said. "He's so good at expressing himself, and I guess what really captures you is that he's so true to heart. He's telling you exactly how he feels and about people in general.
"It's going to be great to meet this man and shake his hand. This is really real -- he's our nation's first black president. Everything that's going on with me and the Cubs, it's just a wonderful experience."
Gibson worked with King to plan the Selma march, the 1963 March on Washington, and the Montgomery and Birmingham campaigns. He had called Williams, 78, and invited him to attend his speech on Monday at the College of DuPage, but understood when the Hall of Famer said he was going to Washington D.C.
This is Williams' seventh trip to the White House. He was also there when teammate Ernie Banks received the Presidential Medal of Honor in 2013.
"I was excited to hear [Gibson] speak because he lived it," Williams said. "But I couldn't miss going to Washington. Seeing the first black president and celebrating Martin Luther King and celebrating the World Series -- I've gone to see the statue [of King] in Washington and it's huge, it's magnificent. These are exciting times."
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.