WASHINGTON – The Giants might be in the throes of a disappointing season, but they’re still the defending World Series champions.
And on the South Lawn of the White House Monday afternoon, one two-time winner graciously saluted another.
President Obama saluted Giants manager Bruce Bochy on his 1,500th victory, proclaimed the “Say Hey Kid” looks younger every time he sees him, referenced Sergio Romo’s beard, Buster Posey’s comeback season, Matt Cain’s perfect game, Pablo Sandoval’s historic three-homer performance, and of course, Tim Lincecum’s haircut.
“Where’s Tim?” said Obama, scanning the risers behind him to laughter from the dignitaries on hand. “There he is. See, you don't even recognize him anymore.”
Yes, the Giants are hard to recognize these days. They’re in last place in the NL West after being swept by the Chicago Cubs at AT&T Park over the weekend, their starting rotation has the third worst ERA in the National League and they’ve committed the most errors among NL clubs.
But their White House visit was just as celebratory as two years ago, when they met the President in a cramped East Room ceremony. This time, on a warm afternoon, he saluted them in the sunshine.
“Some things apparently don’t change,” said President Obama, to a gathering that included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and other dignitaries. “The Giants still won behind stellar pitching and smothering defense and timely hitting. And even though they used a different closer down the stretch, this one still had a beard to fear.”
“And with these two championships, this team has added another chapter to the storied legacy of players like Mays and McCovey and Perry,” the President continued. “And I think it’s time to add a few more names to that list: Lincecum and Cain and Posey and Kung Fu Panda.”
President Obama also highlighted the Giants’ efforts in the community, mentioning the Junior Giants program, their national award for supporting the LGBT community and their decision to become the first pro sports franchise to record an “It Gets Better” video to encourage bullied youth.
The Commander in Chief even broke a little news, announcing the Giants’ plans to turn an area in the center field bleachers into what is believed to be the first edible garden in a major U.S. sports facility, “with rows of kale and strawberries and eggplant.”
“I should add, even Michelle would say it's okay to have a hot dog once in a while, though,” President Obama said. “I don’t want everybody to get carried away and think they have to have kale every time they go to the ballpark.”
Most of the players turned to look at Hunter Pence, who is known for devouring plates piled high with nothing but kale and olive oil.
“So today, we are proud to honor the Giants not only for being champions on the diamond, but also being champions for the entire San Francisco community as well,” said the President, concluding his remarks to applause. “They represent their city proudly, and they do a great job at it.”
Bochy and Posey presented Obama with a signed ball and bat.
“And you should know that I can't read any of their signatures,” the President said, to laughter. “But it's greatly appreciated. Thank you so much.”
This was Posey’s first White House visit; the reigning NL MVP wasn’t able to make the trip in 2011 because he’d just had surgery to remove two screws from his reconstructed left ankle.
Bochy said it was special for him that Posey got to be part of the festivities this time. On the tour, the Giants’ catcher and quiet leader was most impressed by the Presidential library. But nothing compared to getting his first glimpse of President Obama as he strolled to the podium from a path through the Rose Garden.
“I can’t even wrap my mind around the responsibility and the pressure,” Posey said. “We think we have pressure in the job we do. This guy is the ultimate … what’s the word? He’s the leader of the free world. So it’s just nice to be around him.”
And the visit was a nice reminder that most of these players, despite their current struggles, accomplished something great together not long ago.
“I think it’s good to remember that we are a good ballclub,” Posey said. “Sometimes when you’re struggling it’s easy to get down on yourself. Hopefully a trip like this will remind everybody that we’re all good players.”
In his private meeting with Bochy and Giants CEO Larry Baer, Obama expressed confidence the team would play better.
“One of the things the president said was, 'I’ve been following you guys and you’re a second half team, and I expect you to be a second-half team this go-around,'” Baer said. “So we like the enthusiasm.”
Baer also said Obama expressed his intent to visit AT&T Park, if not while in office then certainly afterward. Expect him to be invited to throw out the first pitch when that happens.
“I thought that was pretty cool,” Baer said. “He knows he has a standing invitation.”
Former Giants players Aubrey Huff, Ryan Theriot and Guillermo Mota were invited but did not travel for the ceremony. Right-hander George Kontos, who was optioned to the minors last week, remained with Triple-A Fresno. It was just the current roster in attendance – including right-hander Guillermo Moscoso, who hasn’t thrown a pitch for the club yet after he was acquired from the Chicago Cubs’ Triple-A team in Des Moines.
Sandoval posted a picture of himself and Moscoso around a fireplace in one of the White House state rooms. Timing is everything in life, isn’t it?
The timing of the trade deadline doesn’t change. It arrives on Wednesday, and although the Giants do not plan to give away impending free agents Javier Lopez, Lincecum or Pence, they are listening.
It’s possible that the team photo will look different than the group that stood behind President Obama.
Sabean said both he and vice president Bobby Evans had multiple cell phones, and they weren’t switched off during the ceremony. It’s possible the club is nearing a deal, especially since first baseman Brett Pill and outfielder Roger Kieschnick didn’t play Sunday for Fresno and weren’t in Monday’s rainout lineup, either.
But there was nothing more to announce from the South Lawn.
“Not today,” Sabean said. “I’m announcing a nap in 20 minutes.”