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At the White House, The Color of Winners

By Mark Leibovich
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 3, 2005; Page C01

As a general rule, Boston's twin obsessions with baseball and politics are exceeded only by its obsession with its own civic melodramas -- particularly as they relate to baseball (i.e., the futility of the Boston Red Sox) and politics (the futility of Massachusetts presidential candidates). Those melodramas converged at the White House yesterday when President Bush hosted a South Lawn ceremony for the world champion Red Sox.

This is no typical White House reception for a sports champion, and not just because the Red Sox last won the World Series when Woodrow Wilson lived here. It featured a raucous throng of about 1,000 Red Sox fans, some 300 of whom were wearing Red Sox hats, 100 of whom were wearing press badges and one of whom -- avowed Sox fan John Kerry -- was making his first visit to the White House since Bush defeated him in November.

Bush gets a Red Sox uniform from pitcher Curt Schilling. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais -- AP)

Bush was atypically late, leaving the champions to freeze on the podium for 25 minutes while the crowd broke into chants of "Here we go Red Sox, here we go." One guy yelled, "Hey, do the Yankees get to meet John Kerry?"

But Kerry was nowhere to be seen, a point widely remarked upon. He was at the Capitol, with Bush, attending a ceremony to award a Congressional Gold Medal posthumously to Jackie Robinson through his widow, Rachel. Bush arrived at the White House well before Kerry (speedy motorcades when you win) and was joined onstage by Vice President Cheney, who even donned an overcoat for the occasion, eschewing recent parka and ski hat.

"So, like, what took you so long?" the former Texas Rangers owner began, referring either to his own tardiness or the Red Sox' 86-year drought between championships. He did the requisite welcomes for the various Cabinet secretaries, New England members of Congress and hangers-on who count themselves members of "Red Sox Nation." He also welcomed Red Sox owner Tom Werner and chief executive Larry Lucchino, both of whom campaigned with Kerry last fall while postseason hero Curt Schilling campaigned with Bush.

Bush praised the grit and courage of the Sox, a team whose players gloried in their unshaven and unkempt appearance and dubbed themselves "just a bunch of idiots."

"You know, it took a lot of guts and it took a lot of hair," Bush said to applause and laughter, spurring Cheney to turn around and wave to extravagantly hirsute centerfielder Johnny Damon -- one of those poignant moments between Cheney and Johnny Damon the republic may never see again.

Kerry walked in about halfway through Bush's remarks. He wore a mustard-colored Timberland coat and took a seat near Ted Kennedy. "Senator, welcome, good to see you," Bush said. "I like to see Senator Kerry, except when we're fixin' to debate. If you know what I mean." It was unclear if any of the players actually did know what he meant.

Bush spoke for nine minutes, shook the players' hands, accepted a Red Sox uniform from Schilling (with "Bush" and the number 43 on the back) and posed for a photo. He headed for Kerry, and the two shared an extended handshake and a conversation that lasted for several seconds. Asked later what they spoke about, Kerry declined to say. Skull and Bones thing, maybe.

Bush went back inside the White House, Kerry signed a few autographs, a marching band played "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" and the Red Sox reconvened on four "Champion Coach" buses, accompanied by seven motorcycles.

Before they left, four players -- Damon, Jason Varitek, Kevin Millar and David Ortiz -- held a news conference outside the White House briefing room for about 60 reporters and photographers, most of whom either work for New England outlets or are Washington-based Red Sox fans, posing as "working journalists."

"Well, what do you guys think?" was all the cluster could muster for a lead-off question.

"We don't think," Damon said.

Damon went on to declare his support for the president and said that Bush would fit in well with the Red Sox.

"You calling him an idiot?" one reporter asked.

"No," Damon said.

After a few more questions -- about steroids, the 2005 team and the Yankees -- the press returned to a more urgent matter: getting autographs.

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