WASHINGTON, United States, Jan 17 – Barack Obama, the man once known as the “hope candidate,” on Monday warmly feted a team that had gone more than a century without much hope — the world champion baseball team the Cubs from his adopted hometown of Chicago.
Just four days before he hands power to Donald Trump, President Obama welcomed the members of the Chicago team — who in November won their first World Series title since 1908 — to a light-hearted White House ceremony.
“They said this day would never come,” he said, as the crowd in the White House chanted “Let’s go, Cubbies.”
“I made a lot of promises in 2008,” Obama said, referring to his first presidential campaign.
“But even I was not crazy enough to suggest” that the Cubs would become world champions, he said, to laughter from the team’s members.
The Cubs’ victory, over another long-suffering team — the Cleveland Indians — came only in the seventh and decisive game of the series, with drama building to the very end.
It was a long wait. “The last time the Cubs won a World Series, Teddy Roosevelt was president,” Obama noted.
Since then, “We’ve been through world wars, the Cold War, the Great Depression…”
Obama, a fervent sports fan, conceded that his joy was not quite as great as it would have been had Chicago’s other team — the White Sox, his favorite — won the championship.
But his wife, Michelle, was a huge Cubs fan, Obama said, noting that Monday’s was the first such White House celebration of a winning sports team that she had attended.
Having grown up on Chicago’s South Side, he said, she remembered as a young girl coming home from school to find her father planted before Cubs games on TV.
Many of Obama’s former advisers from Chicago, including now Mayor Rahm Emanuel and top aide David Axelrod, were also in attendance.
Noting that Monday’s was Obama’s last public event in the White House before he steps down — with the exception of a final news conference Wednesday — he noted that it also came on the day when Americans pay tribute to slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Obama said that made him think about racial progress in a still-divided country — and that, in turn, brought to mind the kind of unity that sporting heroes can sometimes bring.
“Sports has the power to bring us together even when we’re divided,” he said, “…a way sometimes of changing hearts in a way that politics or business hasn’t.”
Sports could, he said, help people find something better in themselves.