Keenan revels in Cubs' visit to White House

Lifelong fan writes President Obama's speech celebrating WS title

Keenan revels in Cubs' visit to White House

CHICAGO -- Cody Keenan went to his first Cubs game when he was 5 1/2 months old, tucked into a backpack on his father's back, so his allegiance to the team began at an early age. One week ago, he was in the East Room at the White House, listening to his boss, President Barack Obama, deliver what Keenan called his "dream speech" to salute the 2016 World Series champion Cubs.

"If you'd told me my last speech for him after 9 1/2 years would be about the Chicago Cubs World Series champs, I wouldn't have believed you," said Keenan, a Chicago native, who wrote the speech to celebrate his favorite team.

Obama had invited the Cubs to the White House immediately after they beat the Indians in a dramatic seven-game Series in early November, but it was going to be difficult because the President was leaving office Jan. 20. If the Cubs followed normal protocol, they would've stopped by the White House during the 2017 season. Keenan said it was "super depressing" to think he wouldn't be part of his favorite team's visit.

Cody Keenan (center) is joined by Dexter Fowler (left), Anthony Rizzo, David Ross and Jason Heyward at the Cubs' White House visit.Courtesy of Cody Keenan

"As Chicagoans, we wanted them bad," Keenan said.

Someone in Obama's office reached out to the Cubs to see if a few players could attend a small reception at the White House. The Cubs were polled and everyone wanted to attend, so the team and the White House squeezed in the trip on Martin Luther King Day. Their appearance was Obama's last formal event in the East Room.

Keenan had started writing the speech immediately after Game 7 ended.

"I stayed up almost all night after Game 7 because I couldn't sleep," Keenan said.

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In 2015, he went to the National League Wild Card Game against the Pirates, and also took his father to Game 4 of the NL Championship Series. In 2016, he was able to see an NLCS game against the Dodgers, and went to all three World Series games at Wrigley Field.

"[Game 5] was magic," Keenan said. "I took my dad to Game 3 and unfortunately we lost; a friend took me to Game 4, and I took my sister [Carly] to Game 5, so she's my lucky charm."

The Cubs won Game 5, sending the World Series back to Cleveland. Keenan was streaming Game 6 on his phone while traveling with Obama back from Andrews Air Force Base.

"[The President] was in mid-sentence, and I let out this giant whoop when [Addison] Russell hit the grand slam [in Game 6], and he's like, 'What the hell, man?'" Keenan said.

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Obama, a devoted White Sox fan, did watch the World Series games.

"He got into it," Keenan said. "He would never sacrifice his fandom. He watched Game 6 and he watched Game 7."

Obama was well aware of Keenan's loyalties. In early May, Keenan was speaking at Northwestern, where he had gone to school, and snuck in a Cubs game at Wrigley Field that night. His plan was to catch a 5:30 a.m. CT flight back to Washington and be at his desk in plenty of time.

"My phone rings during the game and it's the White House operator saying, 'Please hold for the President,' and I said, 'Give me one minute to get somewhere quiet,'" Keenan said. "I raced down a stairwell to the concourse. The President comes on the line and we were talking about a speech he had for the next day or day after that he wasn't entirely happy with. Suddenly, somebody got a hit and the crowd went nuts and the organ started playing, and the President says, 'Hang on -- are you at Wrigley Field right now?' I said, 'Yes, but I'm taking the first flight back tomorrow and you would've never known I was gone if you hadn't called.'"

Keenan doesn't remember the details of his first trip to Wrigley, although his father does.

"My dad sat in the bleachers and put me in one of those baby backpacks facing backwards," Keenan said. "He asked the women behind him, 'If you watch my kid, I'll buy your beers and food for the rest of the game.'"

When the Cubs did arrive at the White House last Monday, Keenan was able to meet the players before the ceremony.

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"Working at the White House, you carry yourself pretty straight because you run into generals and world leaders and whatever," Keenan said. "I was a kid backstage [with the Cubs]. It was like, 'Excuse me, Mr. Rizzo, would you sign my jersey and could I get a picture with you?'"

Of course, Anthony Rizzo and the other Cubs obliged. They had plenty of questions for Keenan about what it was like to work in the White House.

"I was surprised how nice and down to earth they all were," Keenan said of the Cubs' players and staff. "You never know what to expect when you're meeting a professional athlete. David Ross was like your best buddy. It was amazing."

Keenan was even able to tease Ross about his new job as a special assistant now that his playing days are over.

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"[Ross] is like, 'I don't know what the job is,'" Keenan said. "I said, 'Are you getting people coffee and stuff?'"

The Cubs' visit was the first involving a sports team that First Lady Michelle Obama attended, and the President added the details of her meeting her favorite player, Jose Cardenal, in his comments. In fact, Obama ad libbed the end of his speech about the importance of sports on society.

What's next? Keenan will continue to work for Obama, writing his speeches and helping with his book. Keenan's wife, Kristen, surprised him at Christmas with tickets to the Cubs' exhibition series in Las Vegas in March. He does plan on attending more Cubs games this year.

"When the President asked me if I would keep working for him ... my only demand was, 'If I want to go watch a Cubs series over the weekend, you have to let me go and I'll be back on Monday,'" Keenan said. "He was like, 'No problem, man.' I said, 'If I want to take Kristen somewhere, you have to let me go.'"

Notice his request to travel with his wife was second on his list. She's a Mets fan.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for 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.