Visiting Red Sox give capital a focus on unity

WASHINGTON — For a fleeting moment, in a town unable to agree on much of anything, politicians and just about everyone around them dropped what they were doing on Tuesday morning and came to consensus on one thing: David Ortiz is awesome.

There was Senator Kelly Ayotte, the Republican from New Hampshire, posing in her green Sox cap with Ortiz. And strolling across the White House lawn was Michael Steel, the spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, who typically blasts out press releases slamming President Obama.

“We are not red states or blue states. We are the Red Sox Nation,” Steel said later, putting a little World Series champion spin on Obama’s famous 2004 Democratic National Convention appeal for bipartisanship.


Obama, with the players behind him on the White House steps, praised the team not only for its unlikely comebacks on the field, but for lifting up the city after the Boston Marathon bombings.

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“The bottom line is I’m proud of these guys,” Obama said. “As a baseball fan, I appreciate their comeback season. But more importantly, as president, I’m grateful for their character and their embrace of the essential role they played in the spirit of that city.”

The Sox, once lovable losers who have won three World Series since 2004, are now the team that seemingly every politician, operative, and staffer wants to be associated with.

Testy press aides suddenly became giddy fans. Warring members of Congress stood in line together to get photos with ballplayers. And on the White House lawn, the group collectively rose as the players emerged, singing along to “Sweet Caroline” played by the Marine Corps Band. Indeed, the stressed-out, suited legions who labor in the political and policy trenches seemed to relish a moment that was noncontroversial. In true Washington fashion, the event was heavily scripted. But the joy seemed genuine, nonetheless.

The president, in his remarks, referenced an expletive that Ortiz uttered at Fenway Park when, just days after the bombing during a ceremony before the game, he told fans, “This is our [expletive] city and nobody is going to dictate our freedom.”


“I think Big Papi put it better and more colorfully than any of us could,” Obama said to laughter. “I won’t repeat his quote. But the point is, Boston and the Red Sox were one this season.”

Shortly after, Ortiz came to the podium and presented Obama with a Sox jersey that had his name on the back, with the number 44, for the 44th president.

Then, in a moment that ricochetted around the social media world, Ortiz whipped out his cellphone, pulled the president close, and asked him to pose for a selfie photograph. Within four hours, it had been retweeted more than 30,000 times. It got only slightly more attention than the garish outfit worn by outfielder Jonny Gomes at the ceremony: a red, white, and blue suit jacket that looked like an American flag.

“I have to say, you all have some fanatical fans,” Obama said at the start of his remarks. “And many of them occupy my administration.”

Several hours before the Sox arrived on Pennsylvania Avenue, White House press secretary Jay Carney tweeted a photo of himself looking in the mirror, wearing a Sox cap and a fake beard. The official White House photographer, Pete Souza (who grew up in South Dartmouth, Mass.), had donned his Sox cap.


Another top adviser, Taunton native David Simas, boasted that there are more Red Sox fans on the White House senior staff than any other team.

“Not to rub it in,” he added.

Sitting up front for Obama’s ceremony was Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, a former MIT professor. Denis Leary, the actor, comedian, and Worcester native, stood near the back.

Also back for the occasion? Jon Favreau, the president’s former speechwriter from North Reading, and Tommy Vietor, the former National Security Council spokesman from Dedham. They left the Obama administration to form a consulting firm called, of course, Fenway Strategies.

Inside the White House, Representative Peter Welch and Senator Pat Leahy, both Democrats from Vermont, posed in front of three World Series trophies. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, posed for a photo with second baseman Dustin Pedroia, while Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, stood with third base coach Brian Butterfield, a Maine native.

It was, according to the Red Sox, the eighth trip to the White House for a Boston-area sports team since 2000 — more than any other metro area in the United States. (To quote David Simas again: “Not to rub it in.’’)

Former Boston mayor Thomas Menino, leaning on a cane made out of a Louisville slugger bat, was escorted in by Vice President Joe Biden. Sox owner John Henry, who also owns The Boston Globe, joined other team owners in strolling over to the stage with Obama.

After the ceremony, several Red Sox players came to address a throng of reporters that was far larger than the pack that shows up to hear congressional leaders stand in the same spot. And the typically feisty reporters dropped all pretense of objectivity. Some wore Sox caps. Others asked for autographs. The questions were all, well, softballs.

What was it like to take a photo with the president? Ortiz was asked.

“Yeah, baby,” he responded.

What did the president think of your jacket? Gomes was asked.

“He approved,” Gomes responded. “He looked me right in the eyes and said, ‘Nice jacket.’ ”

Within hours, the feel-good spirit had worn off. The capital returned to normal, as leaders from both parties resumed fighting over health care and positioning themselves for the midterm elections. Boehner blasted out a press release critical of White House policies.

Carney emerged for the daily press briefing in a Red Sox cap, but quickly removed it. He touted the latest health care enrollment figures.

For his part, the host of the day’s festivities was looking to the future. “The White Sox next year!” Obama, a Chicagoan, shouted in response to a question from reporters, as he walked back to the Oval Office.

Matt Viser can be reached at