Every year, the winners of the “big 4” sports championships, as well as some collegiate sports champions, visit the White House to be honored by the President of the United States. .
On Thursday, July 21, it was time for the 2015 Major League Baseball World Series Champion Kansas City Royals to be honored by POTUS. I was invited to cover the event for MattsBats.com, the second time in a year that the White House Press Office gave me press credentials (I also covered the Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony in November).
We arrived at the White House at around 10:35 am, even though the event didn’t start until about noon. After entering through the Northwest gate on Pennsylvania Avenue and going through Secret Service security, we went to the press briefing room where all the other journalists were camped out. Since it was a weekday morning, the room was packed with people who were working at their little cubbies. Press Secretary Josh Earnest (a die-hard Royals fan who was present at the ceremony), was giving his daily briefing, so it was very cool to see that live.
I had a little bit of time to play before the event, and I learned that the White House is a Pokestop! Josh Earnest even mentioned during his briefing that people playing Pokemon this summer should be safe and aware of their surroundings.
— Matt’s Bats (@MattsBats) July 21, 2016
At 11:25, the pre-set started in the East Room. That’s when the press set up their cameras and claim a spot in the line. We went in through the front door of the White House and turned left into the East Room. After getting set, we went back outside and waited again in the press briefing room (which is the long corridor that connects the White House to the West Wing).
A few minutes before the event started, press was called into the East Room again. By that time, many of the guests had arrived. There were lots of people wearing Royals gear- and some people were dressed very casual for an event at the White House. Soon after, the Royals players, manager and owners were introduced, and the crowd started chanting “Let’s Go Royals!” Finally, the President came into the room too. President Obama welcomed some of the dignitaries, including Sen. Bob Dole, George Brett, former Secretary of Health and Human Services and former Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius. It was a happy occasion, so the President made a few jokes. He pointed out the son of Kansas City, Kansas mayor Mark Holland, who plays shortstop for the little league Braves. He also poked fun at some of the nicknames the Royals players have– like “Hos” for Eric Hosmer, or “Moose” for Mike Moustakas, “Gordo” for Alex Gordon, and “Salvy” for Salvador Perez– for lack of creativity. “It’s like Barack ‘Barack’ Obama, you know?” Everyone laughed.
General Manager Dayton Moore presented the President with a jersey signed by every member of the Royals. It was a ceremony enjoyed by everyone in attendance, even if it was pretty short.
After the ceremony, the press were redirected to an area just outside of the entrance to the West Wing where some players, coaches, and team officials were going to answer questions. This is what’s called a “stakeout.” There was a crowd of about 20 or so professional journalists, and me in the media scrum. But I was able to yell out a question to first baseman Eric Hosmer, who answered my question. It was the first time I had done something like that, and I was a little nervous about it! “You’ve won the All Star Game MVP, the World Series, and you just got to meet the President, what a year it’s been for you!” I asked. “Tell us what that was like.” “It’s been quite the year, it really has. This really topped it off. Remembering what we did last year, and coming here [to the White House] and having the President acknowledge what we do is truly special for all of us.”
In a one-on-one with outfielder Alex Gordon and Hosmer, I asked each of them to compare the feelings between winning the World Series and meeting the President. Both said that they worked hard to win the championship and loved celebrating it with their teammates. “You work for this your whole life. There’s a lot of effort put into to it, so I would say winning the World Series amd sharing that moment with your teammates and the whole organization is a special moment,” Gordon said. Hosmer added, “meeting the President is just one of the perks of winning the World Series!”
This was another amazing experience, but I have to say, I was a little jealous of all the fans wearing KC Royals blue. Next year, I hope we’ll be celebrating the Nationals at the White House. That wouldn’t be too bad!
I recently had the amazing opportunity to interview the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred, about his new youth baseball initiatives.
Ever since taking the reins as Commissioner in 2015, Manfred has done a great job encouraging young kids to try out our National Pastime to become fans for life and future players of the sport. This season, with the exciting new launch of the Play Ball initiatives, I was lucky enough to talk to him about the state of the MLB’s youth initiatives.
Matt’s Bats – Can you please briefly explain Major League Baseball’s youth initiatives and why the league is working on this?
Rob Manfred – All of our youth initiatives are under the umbrella of Play Ball. We have programs designed to reach all sorts of kids, including softball programs, baseball programs, and programs to revive baseball in the inner cities, which are grassroots programs in under-served communities. The MLB Youth Academies and the League Development Invitational are designed for kids who may have a future as professional or college players. It’s an across the board approach to try to get kids of all levels playing the game.
MB – How do you think these programs will help get kids back into baseball?
RM – Play Ball has a focus on simpler ways to engage with the game. One of the impediments to kids playing baseball is that people think you need 18 kids in uniforms and an umpire. We want kids playing the game in a simpler way, whether its Wiffleball, Hot Box, catch, or Home Run Derby. There are a lot of simpler games kids can play that are enjoyable and athletic, without needing 18 kids on the field.
MB – These programs can also encourage kids from inner cities that might not have the field space to play a true baseball game, to play games that are like baseball.
Why did you reach out to Ken Griffey, Jr. to lead the initiative as an ambassador?
RM – Two reasons. First, star power drives kids’ interest. Junior was probably the greatest player of his generation. He has a wonderful personality and an infectious smile.
Second, since his retirement he has shown a lot of interest in youth baseball. He has a long relationship with the Boys and Girls Club. We thought he was the perfect ambassador.
MB – I’m a Nats fan, so I was really excited to see the support of former Expos player Marquis Grissom too.
RM – Marquis runs a great program in Atlanta. Our former players are a huge asset helping kids more interested in baseball. They know and understand the game better than anyone. They are passionate about engaging kids because they believe its the future of our game.
MB – What life lessons can baseball teach kids?
RM – First, teamwork. There’s no sport that’s more of a team game than baseball. No matter how good you are, if you don’t have good teammates around you, you can’t win. Second, the ability to overcome failure. Baseball is a very hard game. The best hitter only succeeds 1 in 3 times and you need to be able to work from your failure to be more successful next time you’re up.
MB – Why are the league’s youth initiatives so important to have now?
RM – The competition for youth players’ time is greater than ever before – there are a lot more sports choices they can make. Each and every sport is trying to get kids to specialize in only one sport, which only increases the competition. Baseball needs to make sure it is putting its best foot forward.
MB – On a different subject, Major League Baseball is obviously a men’s league, but when do you think there will be a woman on the field in an MLB uniform, maybe either as an umpire or coach?
RM – I think its really important that our on-field personnel, players, coaches, and umpires, reflect the diversity of our fan base and I’m hopeful that we’ll have a woman on the field in some capacity in the not too distant future.
MB – Finally, when is the next big youth baseball event that the league is sponsoring?
RM – There will be an exciting announcement up in the Bronx, opening a new MLB Academy at Roberto Clemente Park. [MLB announced the opening of the Academy on Wednesday, July 20, 2016, the day after this interview was conducted]. The opportunity to have an Academy at a park named for one of the game’s greatest stars is a really exciting one.
As you can see, there MLB recognizes the importance of getting kids involved in the sport of baseball. Since I am such a fan of baseball and write about my experiences with the game through the viewpoint of a kid, I was very happy to hear about Commissioner Manfred’s plans for the future of the sport. Keep reading my MLB Pro blog MattsBats.com and follow on Twitter and Instagram. I’m going to be covering a lot of cool things this summer–including I’LL BE AT THE WHITE HOUSE TODAY AS PRESIDENT OBAMA WELCOMES THE 2015 WORLD SERIES CHAMPION KANSAS CITY ROYALS.
Last year, during his first season with the Washington Nationals, ace of the staff Max Scherzer launched a charity called Baseball Cards for a Cause. Max autographed fans’ baseball cards in exchange for a donation to the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. This was a fundraiser Max and his wife, Erica May-Scherzer, started when Max was in Detroit on the Tigers, and I think that it’s great that the Scherzers brought it with them to Washington. I participated in the fundraiser last year, and thought it was a fun way to support a great cause. I now have in my collection the autograph of one of baseball’s best pitchers, and it’s even personalized to me. I had a chance to talk with Max and Erica about their charities, and Max answered the most important questions about his autograph signing programs.
This year, the Scherzers are expanding their autograph and fan engagement programs to help even more charities. In addition to participating in Cards for a Cause again this year (more details on the expanded program below), there are three more ways he’s helping the community: Autographs and Athletes, Strike Out Modern Slavery, and The Scherzer Showdown. I’ll explain each one below and the different worthy causes each supports.
Autographs and Athletes – Autographs and Athletes is like last year’s Baseball Cards for a Cause, but kicked up a notch. Now, fans seeking autographs are not limited to sending in a baseball card. You send in your favorite items, like a baseball, photo, or ticket stub, and Max will sign it and return it to you. All the details are online here: polarisproject.org/autographs-athletes All the money raised supports a charity called Polaris, a leading charity in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery. I asked Erica why they chose to support Polaris with the Autographs and Athletes program: “I’m an ambassador for the organization and have worked closely with them for the last year. I cannot say enough positive things about how much I love Polaris and how impactful the work they are doing is. Human trafficking is an issue that so many people are unaware or misinformed of, despite the fact that it impacts over 21 million people globally. By supporting Polaris with these fundraisers Max and I can not only raise money for the National Human Trafficking Hotline (which Polaris operates), but also help bring attention to the cause.”
Fans paying close attention on Twitter may have noticed recently that Max has already started signing some of the items that have been mailed in.
— Polaris (@Polaris_Project) June 28, 2016
In a recent interview, Max told me, “I’m signing them in groups so my fans can get their items sooner. I just signed 120….Depending how many more come I’ll sign one or two more times” before the season ends. So, I wanted to know what it’s like signing all those cards. He can’t get a cramp in his pitching hand! “It doesn’t really hurt my hand too much since I’m used to signing all the time,” Max told me. “I can sign about 500 items in one sitting before my hand hurts and I’m mentally fatigued.”
Strike Out Modern Slavery– Also in support of Polaris, Max is organizing a pledge drive for each strike out this season. As Nats fans know, Max can serve up quite a few strikeouts– as many as 20 in a single game! Fans are encouraged to make a pledge on the website (as little as $0.31 a strikeout), and Max and Erica will match all donations up to $25,000. Everyone who pledges is entered into a drawing to win Nationals prizes like Scherzer-signed baseballs and Nationals tickets. For more information and to pledge a donation to Polaris, visit pledgeit.org/maxscherzer. So far, this charity has raised just under $10,000.
The Scherzer Showdown– For the second year in a row, Max Scherzer and fellow Nationals teammates are hosting a fantasy football draft benefiting the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. Sponsored by the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation, the Youth Baseball Academy (“YBA”) teaches DC area kids about how to stay healthy and have a good education. The YBA integrates the STEM curriculum into baseball, like teaching math using Nats’ player batting averages. “They are such a well run organization that is focused on at-risk youth development,” Erica told me. “I was very excited when Max signed with a city that had a youth academy. Sports have such power beyond the field and can truly make a life changing difference in countless kid’s lives.” When you sign up for the Scherzer Showdown, not only do you attend a fantasy football draft with Max and his teammates, but fans play fantasy football with the players all season. This is such an awesome idea for a fundraiser, and a great way for players to interact with their fans. For more info and to sign up for the draft, visit scherzershowdown.com!
Cards for a Cause- The Cards for a Cause autograph program is back for 2016, but a little different this year. By making a donation to the Nationals Dream Foundation, fans will receive a limited edition Dream Foundation baseball card, presented by TOPPS, which will be autographed by your choice of Max Scherzer, Jonathan Papelbon or Shawn Kelley. It will also be authenticated by MLB. At the end of the regular season, Scherzer, Papelbon and Kelley will will match all funds raised by their individual baseball card with a charitable donation of their own.
It’s great to know that the stars of our hometown baseball team like to give back to the community and to charities that mean a lot to them. I strongly encourage you to help them out, and maybe get a nice autograph for yourself or a friend.
Since I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (“juvenile diabetes) last October, I have been using my website and social media to raise money and awareness for this life-long autoimmune disease that kills the cells in your pancreas that make insulin. I was helped by the wonderful nurses and doctors at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, who helped me understand this new disease and how I can take care of it. Ever since, I’ve been going to frequent classes and doctor’s appointments at the Washington Nationals Diabetes Care Complex (“WNDCC”).
The WNDCC hosts an annual player visit, where the players come and hang out with the kids. Last week, relief pitchers Sammy Solis and Blake Treinen came to meet about two dozen of the WNDCC patients, as well as some kids from the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. One of the activities was making healthy, carb-friendly snacks. Even though Type 1 diabetes is NOT caused by unhealthy eating or poor exercise habits, people with Type 1 diabetes need to monitor the amount of carbs they eat because they need to take an injection of insulin to help the body “digest” it since their own bodies can no longer make insulin.
The first event was an interview panel inside Seacrest Studio, which is a TV/radio studio inside the hospital. It broadcasts throughout the hospital so kids can tune in from their rooms. I was one of the kids chosen to ask the players questions. I asked Blake Treinen about how he reacted when he learned he was in a Jeopardy! question during the offseason.
He told me that he did not know he was going to be mentioned. He was “stunned” that he was mentioned on the show because the rest of the people in the category were Hall of Famers. He said his grandparents were at home watching the show and “literally fell off their rockers” when his name was mentioned.
Another kid on the panel asked Blake and Sammy what their favorite ballparks were, other than Nationals Park. Blake said that he liked Petco Park in San Diego. After the Q&A, I told him that Petco was my favorite too. Sammy said that he went to college in San Diego, and for the rest of the day, I was “Mr. San Diego” to the two of them.
After the interview, the players and patients left the studio and went back to the WNDCC rooms. First, I helped make snacks, like a skewer with meat, cheese, and vegetables, a lemon hummus, and “pizza popcorn.” It’s funny– I don’t really like pizza or popcorn, but I did like the pizza-flavored popcorn that I made. Sammy helped us make the popcorn.
We then moved on to Blake’s station, which was in the WNDCC exercise room. There were a bunch of different stretches, machines, and ways to keep yourself healthy in the mini-gym. I liked the machines we were able to use, like the elliptical and the exercise bike. Blake was pitching in a Wii baseball showdown with the patients present at the event. I did fine against him, getting 2 “hits” off errors. It was a really fun day.
After the activities, the nurses and doctors working the event led us outside, where we met Blake and Sammy sitting at a table. Topps, the sports card company, was there, and they made custom baseball cards for the patients and attendees. Sammy and Blake asked us to sign a card for them, they signed a card for us, and then we got a stack of custom cards. Also, the favors included a brand new Nats hat, and a pack of real Topps baseball cards.
It made me feel good that the players take time out of a game day to help kids at the hospital. I like seeing players give back to the community, and this is what happened on Wednesday.
I can’t wait until the next time this will take place. Wednesday was such a fun day!