White House visit was always an optional choice for Red Sox
BALTIMORE — The Red Sox clubhouse isn’t all that different from the world surrounding it.
There are Republicans and Democrats and — as is probably the case in your life — more than a few people who would rather talk about anything except politics.
There are wealthy players and minor league call-ups who show up at the park six hours early so they can get a free lunch and bank their per diem.
There are proud gun owners and concerned fathers who want guns better controlled given the plague of school shootings.
There are graduates from enormous universities and others who barely scraped by high school, if they went at all.
There are dedicated watchers of “Game of Thrones” and others who probably think Jon Snow is some lefthander in the National League.
There are Americans who can trace their roots back for centuries and immigrants who arrived here a few years ago because America promised them a better life.
There are whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians and others who check off several boxes.
There are different religions, different values, and probably different sexual orientations given how many people play or work for the team.
And there are people who wholeheartedly believe in President Trump and others equally convinced he’s a terrible blight on the nation.
So nobody should be surprised that the team is divided when it comes to visiting the White House on Thursday to celebrate its World Series championship.
But as much as some outsiders want to turn their decisions into a referendum of something bigger like patriotism, respect or duty, it’s not. It’s a choice they’re free to make.
“It’s personal for everybody,” said catcher Christian Vazquez, who won’t be going. “We all had a decision to make. We all play baseball, but we don’t all think the same way.”
Lefthander Brian Johnson, who is going, was worried at first that the issue would strain relationships. But that didn’t happen.
“I haven’t noticed anything,” he said. “Do your work, that’s it. We’re here for baseball. [Thursday] is our day off. We were told we could do whatever we wanted. Some of us will go, some won’t. It really not something that comes up very often. Only when we’re asked about it.”
Visiting the White House was once a largely non-partisan event that merited little media coverage beyond a photograph of the president being handed a team jersey with his name on the back.
Now athletes have been thrust into the public debate regarding Trump and his policies. Some teams have skipped the event. Others haven’t been invited. Most have accepted the invitation, but made attendance optional.
That’s what the Red Sox did and all involved in the decision felt it was the best thing.
It didn’t seem right to make anybody go or deny the opportunity for those who did.
“That started with ownership and we all agreed,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Wednesday. “Give people freedom of choice.”
Manager Alex Cora, who isn’t going, never felt a need to address the team because he didn’t want to make issue any bigger than it already was.
This was one time his instincts told him the best way to be a good communicator was to leave it alone. Let everybody make his own decision free from any pressure.
“Alex has a way of uniting guys but [letting] people still express their opinions,” Dombrowski said. “That goes on all the time. But this group respects one another. That starts with leadership and communication. I never feared there would be a problem.
“But there could have been if we forced people to do things.”
That the choices broke down on racial lines was a reflection of the world outside. Being photographed shaking President Trump’s hand would not be seen the same way in Puerto Rico as it would be in Texas.
It’s uncomfortable and unfortunate and in the end, unavoidable.
Because the Red Sox make for a trendy example of life in these divided times, Cora and the Sox players have been asked to explain their positions repeated times.
Cora shut that line of questioning down on Wednesday when it came up again.
“We put it to rest,” he said.
Then Cora was asked if he would watch the ceremony on television.
“I’ve got twins, brother,” he said, referencing his 22-month-old sons.
After another White House question went nowhere, the topic turned to relief pitcher Ryan Brasier.
The political discourse, such as it was, lasted 47 seconds. The Red Sox have better things to talk about.
“Look at how we’re playing lately,” Vazquez said. “We’re getting better, everybody is on the same page. We’re winning games. That’s what we care about.”