How do you get your Little League team to get their hitting going? Get a surprise visit before your game from President Barack Obama! Our excited kids won 12-1.
I’ve been a Little League baseball coach for 10 years and 20 seasons; first with my 15 year-old sophomore son Luke who has graduated way beyond his Dad coach to high school varsity baseball, and now with my 11 year old son Jack—who got to meet the President of the United States at his game on Monday night. The expressions on the kid’s faces when Obama walked on to their field were magical and priceless.
It’s rather unexpected to have the President show up on your baseball diamond, talk to your team and shake hands with all your players as a warm-up to your game. But this is Washington. One of the three Washington Post stories featured a wonderful team picture with the President and our Tigers, with his arm around the shoulder of Jack. My wife Joy says we’re going to frame that one.
Some of my baseball parents know that the President has been a friend of mine for a long time. I was a member of his original faith council and have worked with him on issues like poverty and immigration. But I had no idea he was coming and he was as surprised to see me as I was to see him. “Wallis, what are you doing here!” Obama yelled with a big smile as he walked onto Friendship Field. Like the best moments in sports—some things just happen.
The President did an impromptu detour from a trip to a fundraiser to stop for a little while and hang out with some Little League baseball players. Press Secretary Jay Carney has a daughter who was playing in the game at the other end of the field and the President decided to drop Dad off and pay a visit to all the boys and girls on the way to his next event. From the looks on Barack Obama’s face during his time with the Little Leaguers, I would guess he enjoyed it more than the political fund-raiser afterward.
After taking some minutes to talk to the players, shake every kid’s hand, and do a picture with each of the four teams; the President threw out the first pitch to my Tigers catcher, Danny Ringel who was ready for the Pitcher-in- Chief at home plate. When local news stations interviewed the 10-year-old after the game, Danny said, “I don’t see him every day. It’s sort of grand. It just felt amazing,” Like a smart catcher, Danny told the press that the President’s pitch “was outside…but good.” It was a little outside, but Danny snagged it, causing the President to point to Danny and say, “You saved me from grounding. Thanks man!” Danny later told me, “I didn’t know whether to throw it back to him, so I just walked out to the mound and gave him the ball.” The President then signed the ball for Danny, who now has his favorite thing in the world. In the end, the Tigers were victorious. But for Danny Ringel, to be able to catch and keep a ball signed by the President of the United States probably beats just about anything.
The President’s visit inspired our whole Tigers team and they had their best game ever! Twelve runs on 12 hits! Two of our players got their first hits of the season and the Washington Post reported that “Jack Wallis had a double, triple and homer, and Della Carney, one of just two girls in her division, made a stellar catch in left field.” Jack was quite surprised when his mother showed him the article at breakfast this morning; he thought for a moment, and asked, “Do you think this will help with my scouting prospects?”
I got to have a little chat with the President as he was leaving and could see how much he was enjoying himself. A White House note to me later that night said he had as much fun as the kids.
It was already a perfect night for baseball. Then we had a visit from the President and our bats came alive! I told the happy Tigers in our usual post-game meeting that all we needed to win, and to play our best game so far; was for the President to show up! We’ll check his schedule for the play-offs!
In sports and in life, things are unpredictable, and a spark can change everything. Being a spark for change is what Barack Obama hoped he could do as President of the United States. Washington’s dysfunctional politics makes that difficult every day; but it happened Monday night–on our own field of dreams.
Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.