Windy City focuses attention on Obama
White Sox fans gather to watch inauguration of 44th President
CHICAGO -- The question posed to Willie Montford led to a silent pause for thought, as he stood in the United Scout Lounge during Tuesday's inauguration party at U.S. Cellular Field, celebrating the nation's top White Sox fan becoming the country's 44th President.
Then, tears began to well up in Montford's eyes.
"It's hard to put it into words," said an emotional Montford, when asked for his take on the inaugural proceedings. "It's unbelievable. I'm speechless."
Montford, who serves as a teacher's assistant and basketball coach, was part of the special group from near-by McClellan Elementary School which joined the White Sox staff for this viewing party. With balloons strewn from each table and cookies featuring everything from Obama's name and likeness to his 'Yes We Can' mantra, the Scout Lounge felt more like a euphoric campaign headquarters than anything truly baseball related.
But there were plenty of baseball reminders, make that, White Sox reminders, tying Obama to his favorite team. One poster talking about a "whole new ballgame" and featuring Obama's inauguration date on it hung next to an oversized snapshot of Joe Crede' walk-off swing in Game 2 of the 2005 American League Championship Series against the Angels.
Obama just happened to throw out the first pitch at that game, starting the White Sox on an eight-game winning streak to the World Series crown.
"This is such a proud day for Americans, but especially as Chicagoans," said White Sox senior director of community relations Christine O'Reilly of Tuesday's South Side celebration. "The fact that the President has chosen us as his team, I think it's such a proud moment for us."
"Our White Sox brand is about pride, passion and tradition, and President Obama will take those same ideas with him to Washington, D.C.," White Sox vice president and chief marketing officer Brooks Boyer said. "To have those same brand values, it will serve our country and fans well."
Children from the McClellan School brought with them signs congratulating and praising the new President. Just about everyone in attendance sported a White Sox cap, much as Obama has continued to do since his historic election as the first African-American president.
Boyer spoke of how the White Sox will be reaching out to Obama to once again extend an invitation for first-pitch honors on Opening Day 2009 at U.S. Cellular. Before heading off to the nation's capital, White Sox vice president of communications Scott Reifert said the team had been advised to wait until Obama officially was in office to make the invitation.
"He probably has two or three more important things to work on," said Boyer with a laugh. "We would love to have him, and his family is always welcome, on Opening Day or for any other game. He's a true fan, and there's a great Chicago flavor to Washington, D.C., right now."
Although Obama wasn't present in body at U.S. Cellular, his spirit certainly permeated the stadium. The side of the ballpark facing the Dan Ryan Expressway featured a huge sign congratulating Obama, while those in attendance for the party applauded when Obama was announced and then sworn in as President. They hung on every word of his inaugural address.
Pictures of celebrities who have previously thrown out first pitches at U.S. Cellular hang outside the Scout Lounge. The late Bernie Mac is in one of them, a friend of Montford's, who truly would have appreciated the world's most famous White Sox fan's official ascent to leader of the United States.
"That was something he wanted to see, and I was able to see it for him," said Montford of Mac. "I see the world coming together, under someone who cares and someone who is going to help everyone to respect one another. Our young people who might not understand it now will appreciate it later. This is unbelievable, and I just want to thank the White Sox for having a chance to be a part of this."
"Today, it's all about the man," O'Reilly said. "The spirit and energy in the community is palpable. It's just a great thing that the White Sox made time to bring us all together to enjoy this historic moment."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.