Jim Wallis, a member of President Obama's faith council, has a rule when he coaches the Tigers in the Northwest Washington Little League's 10- to 12-year-old division: No talking politics with the influential Washington parents whose kids dot the rosters.
But he made an exception Monday evening when the leader of the free world showed up unexpectedly at Friendship Park in Northwest as the team was warming up. "Obama smiled and said, 'Wallis! What are you doing here?' " Wallis recalled Tuesday.
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Wallis, whose son Jack plays on the Tigers, had the same question for the president, who had made the unscheduled stop on the way to a Democratic fundraiser in Potomac. Why this park, on this day? The White House noted to traveling reporters that the president was mingling with the pint-sized sluggers to foreshadow his trip to Cooperstown, N.Y., home of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame on Thursday, where he will discuss tourism and the administration's efforts to ramp up foreign investment in the economy.
But Wallis suspected that there was another reason Obama stopped by — White House press secretary Jay Carney's daughter, Della, 9, was playing in another game at the park at the same time with her team, the Royals.
In an interview, Carney said that it was pure coincidence that Obama turned up where his daughter was playing. He said the White House travel advance team had selected the field earlier in the week and he didn't find out until staffers disclosed it in a planning meeting Monday morning. Carney said he didn't even tell his wife, television journalist Claire Shipman, who was attending the game with their son, for fear of compromising the security around the secret presidential visit.
"I try to make her games, so I was going to go anyway," Carney said. Of the coincidence that his daughter was playing and a friend of Obama's was coaching one of the teams, the spokesman noted: "It's Washington."
Carney said he hitched a ride with the presidential motorcade, traveling with Obama in the presidential limo. Obama, a White Sox fan, chatted about baseball, said the spokesman, a Red Sox fan.
Obama chatted with the kids and took group photos, and he threw a pitch — a bit low and outside — to Tigers player Danny Ringel, 10, who deftly caught it.
Adam Schwartz, an attorney at the Department of Justice, got to the field 45 minutes early with his son to start warming up for their 6 p.m. game. He noticed police dogs sniffing cars, but didn’t think anything of it. Then about 10 minutes before the game, a woman approached him and said the president was stopping by, but not to tell the kids. When Obama got out of the motorcade, Schwartz said, the kids’ faces were priceless.
Schwartz coaches the Royals. Players on the team include Carney’s daughter and NBC's "Meet the Press" host David Gregory’s son and daughter. On the opposing team, the Indians, was Obama senior adviser David Plouffe’s son.
The president was a good luck charm for both the Tigers, who beat the Orioles 12-1, and the Royals, who won their game, too. Jack Wallis had a double, triple and homer, and Della Carney, one of just two girls in her division, made a stellar catch in left field.
Her father, who stayed at the game as Obama went on to the fundraiser, looked on proudly.