Sox: Firsthand fondness for Obama
President-elect a serious South Side baseball fan
CHICAGO -- Barack Obama officially was elected as the 44th President of the United States on Tuesday night, becoming the first African-American president in history and setting off a celebration in Chicago's Grant Park.
And yes, the President-elect is a White Sox fan.
White Sox GM Kenny Williams, one of only three African-American general managers (along with the Angels' Tony Reagins and the Marlins' Michael Hill), has known Obama for almost 10 years and even played basketball with him this summer. The two enjoyed discussing each other's jobs, with Williams asking him about issues and Obama asking about his beloved Sox.
"I'm interested in all these questions of foreign policy and national security," Williams told the New York Times on Tuesday night while watching the election returns from the GM Meetings in Dana Point, Calif. "In between his games, shooting a couple of baskets, he asks me, 'What about your pitching?' I said, 'Excuse me, you worry about national security, I'll worry about the pitching.' "
Obama is not just a casual, or political, fan of the White Sox, he's a devout supporter, even wearing his tried and true White Sox hat Wednesday morning in Chicago as he headed off for an early workout following his historic day.
"During the times we have run into each other, the several times I saw him in spur-of-the-moment sort of situations before he got busy with the campaign, he always asked pertinent questions about what was going on with the White Sox," said White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker, who bumped into Obama on a few occasions in Chicago at a downtown health club.
"He's an avid sports fan," said Del Matthews, an assistant in baseball operations for the White Sox. "But he's definitely a Chicago guy."
Later in the afternoon, he kept up a campaign tradition of playing a game of pickup basketball on the day of voting. One of those invited to play at Chicago's Attack Athletics Gym was ESPN college basketball reporter Andy Katz.
"He invited me to play. It was a campaign promise kept," Katz said of Obama, who he interviewed for a story on Obama's brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, the men's basketball coach at Oregon State. Katz said that after the interview, Obama had promised he would invite him to play a game of hoops with him.
"In the first game, I was on the team opposite him," Katz said, recounting the encounter on ESPN's Mike and Mike in the Morning. "And I have to admit, he did score on me.
"Regardless of what your politics are, what was unbelievable was that this man, who was about to become President of the United States ... and you would never have known it. He was so calm, cool and collected, so even-tempered.
"He said, 'There is nothing more I can do.'" Katz continued. "He was more into the games, keeping the score, talking a little smack."
Matthews and his family have a direct connection to Obama, in that his 10-year-old sister is friends with the President-elect's oldest daughter, Malia. Matthews' mother, Sandy, is close friends with Michelle Obama, the country's next First Lady and even campaigned with her leading up to Tuesday's historic evening.
During the Super Tuesday primaries, Matthews had a chance to briefly visit Obama in his hotel suite. On Tuesday, he personally congratulated Obama and took a picture with him as Obama made his away around 500-or-so supporters in a tent area at Grant Park after his moving speech in front of an estimated 250,000 emotional supporters.
Describing Obama as "calm, cool and reserved," Matthews depicted Tuesday's Grant Park celebration as surreal and like a movie-type atmosphere. Matthews added that Obama featured a demeanor exhibiting relief, although it also could have been fatigue from campaigning so hard the last four or five days.
Gary Matthews, Del's father and a fixture on the 1984 Cubs, has had the chance to play golf with Obama previously. In an interesting twist, "Sarge" Matthews currently broadcasts for the Phillies, and if the 2008 World Series champions visit the White House after Jan. 20, Matthews will be reacquainted with an old friend.
Scott Reifert, the White Sox vice president of communications, lives about four blocks away from Obama and his family in Chicago. His youngest daughter has gone to school for four or five years with Sasha, Obama's youngest daughter, and the two have become friends.
The election of Obama meant something completely different to Reifert's daughter. She was excited to hear about the new puppy her friend would be getting, as mentioned by Obama in his celebratory speech, but also felt the disappointment that her friend soon would be moving to Washington, D.C.
"She will be the one flying to Washington for the play date," said Reifert with a laugh. "We also explained to her how they still would be friends but just in a different way -- like e-mailing each other.
"It was neat for my family to experience this as acquaintances in the neighborhood and through our kids. It was neat for our kids to understand the historic nature of this election. And when you put the White Sox connection on top of it all, it's like icing on the cake."
Reifert had run into Obama on Friday, when the kids were out trick-or-treating for Halloween and said that he "looked normal, looked great." He talked about Obama being just like any other doting parent, with that everyman trait being one of his more electable qualities, explaining how he attended an annual potluck dinner at their daughters' school last year just like any other father.
Of course, Obama isn't quite like any other father. He's now the 44th President of the United States, and the first White Sox fan to enter the Oval Office, among his many other historic accomplishments.
"With me being African-American, I didn't think I would see this day in my lifetime," said Matthews of Obama's election. "I never heard Dr. [Martin Luther] King or Malcolm X speak, but this is that guy for this generation. It's inspirational and motivational what he is and what he has done, more than anything."
"Regardless if you were for [Republican candidate John] McCain or Obama, the great thing about this election is that color didn't matter," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said. "Every African-American kid in this country can truly believe he or she can go as high as they want to go in life."
Williams told The Times he first met Obama as an Illinois state senator in about 2001, at a barbecue hosted by a mutual friend, Chicago banker Jim Reynolds. At the time, Obama was probably less of a big deal than Williams, a former White Sox player who had just become the team's general manager.
"I wasn't introduced to him as, 'Hey, this is a future potential president of the United States,'" Williams recalled. "He was a guy who was impressive, out there helping people."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.