Houston Astros visit the White House, where Dusty Baker meets a kindred spirit

WASHINGTON, D.C — It pained him to do it, but President Joe Biden began to relive one of baseball’s most dominant postseason runs. Seven straight wins against the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees gave the Astros an American League pennant. 

Only the Bidens’ favorite team stood between them and a World Series title. Biden has worn Philadelphia Phillies paraphernalia throughout his political career and sometimes jokes he must root for them or else he’ll sleep alone. First Lady Dr. Jill Biden grew up in a Philadelphia suburb and has been described by her husband as “the most rabid” Phillies fan. 

She attended Game 4 of the World Series at Citizens Bank Park and bore witness to more Houston history in a season full of it. Four Astros pitchers teamed for the first combined no-hitter in World Series history, the sort of momentum-altering performance Philadelphia could not overcome.

“Although I love these guys, this next part is hard to say,” Joe Biden said on Monday, turning toward the group of Astros gathered behind him in the East Room of the White House. “They beat the Phillies in six games to win the World Series. Y’all realize that means I can’t go back to Philly?”

After eight months of mending their wounds, the Bidens welcomed the Astros to Washington D.C. on Monday to commemorate their World Series victory. The aforementioned no-hitter allowed Biden to break from script, turning to the team and asking, “You guys weren’t just satisfied with winning the World Series, were you?” Shortstop Jeremy Peña, the first rookie position player to win a World Series MVP, earned a personal introduction from the President. 

“That was pretty surreal,” Peña said. “That was awesome. I didn’t know that was part of the script. It was pretty cool.”

Peña flashed his trademark wide smile while waving to an audience filled with Houston-area politicians and members of the team’s front office and support staff.  Visiting the White House was part of his “bucket list,” Peña said, and the experience on Monday exceeded anything he could have envisioned. 

“I feel like it went above what I expected,” Peña said. “Everything was great, from how they treated us, to the environments. We had a good time. The guys had a great time.”

Owner Jim Crane and his wife, Whitney, accompanied members of the team and coaching staff on the risers behind Biden, who weaved self-deprecating jokes with shoutouts of specific moments and team members into a 15-minute ceremony.

“Perseverance has been the biggest part of my life and perseverance has been the biggest point of these guys’ lives — or else we couldn’t have made it to the promised land like we did,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. 

“These guys were a group of veterans alongside some incredible young men who stepped into some big shoes and made some of the biggest plays on the biggest stage,” he continued. “We all know baseball is a long season and they all came to play every day. They were consistent in their personalities and confidence and had unwavering support and love for each other.”

The Astros and the president. (Josh Morgan / USA Today)

Monday offered a rare first for a man who has seen and savored everything this sport can offer. Baker won a World Series with the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers, but they did not visit the White House to celebrate it. He spent the next 52 years trying to win another, authoring an illustrious career cursed with some crushing October ousters.

Because he played in states they governed, Baker met both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan before either man became president. During one spring training at his rental home, Baker hosted an Illinois senator named Barack Obama for a cookout. Baker barbecued ribs along with some of his other specialties: macaroni and cheese, cornbread and collard greens.  

A decade later, during the 2016 winter meetings in Washington D.C., Obama phoned Baker and invited him to the White House. Baker had a flight home scheduled the next day, but Obama insisted he delay it. Baker obliged, and visited him in the Oval Office, but remained befuddled about how Obama got his phone number. 

“Like I said,” Obama told him, according to Baker, “I’m the president.”

Until Monday, Baker had not been back at the White House since sitting with Obama. Meeting dignitaries is nothing new for baseball’s most beloved manager, but being feted for finally winning a title is. Biden introduced him as “the legendary Dusty Baker.”

“The worst part about it is I remember rooting for him as a kid — and I was older than he was,” Biden said. “Dusty, it wasn’t easy. People counted you out saying you were past your prime. Hell, I know something about that.”

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The World Series trophy and the President’s jersey. (Josh Morgan / USA Today)

Biden, America’s oldest president, found a kindred spirit in Baker, the 74-year-old skipper who’s never met a stranger and steals the spotlight in almost any room he enters. Monday in the East Room felt no different. 

“I said the night we won that if we won one, we’d win two. So, now, I have to keep my word,” said Baker, whose team entered Monday 2 1/2 games back in the American League West. 

“We’re in the middle of making it happen right now, coming off a great series in New York and heading into a big series in Baltimore, probably the biggest series that Baltimore has had in a while.”

Baker’s unintentional barb at Baltimore’s deep rebuild brought one of the biggest laughs of the afternoon. 

“Hey, I’m known to be honest,” he said with a wide smile. “No harm intended.”

Throughout his four-year Astros tenure, Baker has abided by that saying: If I win one, I might as well win two. Monday felt like a final end to the spoils of the first, and perhaps another incentive for all involved to secure a second. 

“2022 was never about one individual. It was about a group of men coming together to accomplish something very special for this city that supported them,” Baker said. “I love them all. You got to love each and every one of them and it came together in a special feeling that is tough to describe and hard to repeat — but we plan on repeating that exact feeling.”

(Top photo of Astros owner Jim Crane, President Biden and Dusty Baker: Alex Wong / Getty Images)

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