With the buzz of a World Series championship still in the air, the Cubs will be traveling to the White House this week to meet President Obama.
I don’t care what your political affiliation is. Meeting the President of the United States of America – on his home turf, no less – is something few of us will ever get to do. It should be something the players, coaches and traveling party will never forget.
I’m not foreseeing any upcoming White House visits on my plate, so I’m not exactly speaking from experience here. But once upon a time, I was fortunate to meet a president at my home park, and it was an amazing experience.
Turning back the time machine, it was June 30, 1999 … the summer after the Summer of Sammy.
If you recall, it was during the month of June 1998 that Sammy Sosa exploded onto the national scene. He had been a solid major leaguer up to that point – heck, he hit 36 homers the previous campaign – but that June, he did something no player before or since has accomplished. Sosa homered 20 times during a single month in launching himself into the superstardom stratosphere. While the rest of the 1998 campaign became the Roger Maris chase – along with the Cubs’ run to the postseason – June is when it all started.
Somewhere over the next year, and please don’t ask how or why, Mr. Sosa had somehow connected with the most powerful man in the universe.
And President Clinton took time out from his busy schedule to visit Sammy at Wrigley Field.
I had heard whispers that this could be happening – but you never really know. Even before 9/11, presidential visits were kept pretty quiet.
To illustrate how quiet visits could be, let me take a step back for a moment – as this was not the first presidential visit to Wrigley Field during my Cubs lifetime.
Back in September 1988, during his “bucket list” as his presidency was winding down, President Reagan came to Wrigley Field. He wanted the opportunity to spend some time in the broadcast booth announcing a game, and his time in the booth with Harry Caray was legendary.
That was my first year with the Cubs. The presidential visit was on a need-to-know basis. I was a newbie, and I didn’t need to know.
A couple hours before the game, I was sitting in the press box setting up for the game. I was in a zone – and wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings. All of a sudden, there was a LARGE bomb-sniffing dog a little too close to my crotch.
Thankfully, I wasn’t packing.
After literally banging my head on the press box roof leaping out of my chair, the dog’s human partner said to me, “You’re good” – then walked away.
My breathing returned to a normal rate by the time President Reagan reached the broadcast booth a couple hours later. While I didn’t get the opportunity to meet him, he was directly in my eyesight the entire time he was on the air.
A decade later, little old me did get to meet the president.
That June afternoon, President Clinton arrived at the ballpark early in the game – and was there, sitting in an enclosed box, when Sosa connected off Milwaukee’s David Weathers for a 7th-inning shot that proved to be the game-winner in a 5-4 victory.
After the game, the president went to the Cubs clubhouse and walked from locker to locker, saying hello to every player and taking the time for individual pictures. The media was cordoned off – and I was amongst that throng, keeping them out of trouble.
The president completed his round, then a few Cubs staffers were invited down for pictures by Cubs general manager Ed Lynch.
All I kept thinking as I was waiting my turn was: “Don’t hyperventilate!”
Then, it was Chuck Wasserstrom’s time to step to the plate.
What’s it like to meet The American President? “The man is the leader of the free world. He's brilliant, funny, handsome. He's an above-average dancer.” Actually, I must send a shout out to my wife. That’s a line she loves to quote from the movie “The American President.”
Seriously, I was in awe. President Clinton said hello and asked my name. He asked what I did.
This … was … so … cool. He was very personable, very friendly. Come up with every synonym for charismatic that you can, and that’s what it felt like at that moment.
On top of that, he was a lot taller in person than I thought he would be.
When we were down with the chit chat, handshake and photo, President Clinton noticed a blue bound book in my hand and asked, “What’s that?”
“It’s my scorebook,” I said.
He then asked, “Can I see it?”
I couldn’t believe it. The president wanted to see my chicken scratch recording a baseball game. I opened up my scorebook to that afternoon’s game, and then – as he was scanning the page – I asked, “Can you please sign it?”
I had an opportunity to meet a lot of celebrities during my time with the Cubs – Bill Murray, Billy Crystal, Gregory Hines, John Goodman, to name drop a few – but generally didn’t act upon it for proof. Looking back, I obviously wish I had.
But on this day, I had the guts to ask the President of the United States of America for an autograph. It’s one of my keepers from my Cubs days – along with the photo.
There are a lot of things that you can take for granted, but meeting the president is something that will stick with you. I don’t know what Cubs players will be feeling when they meet the president, but in a way – I’ve been there.