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Obama celebrates world-champ Cubs at White House

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, with just days left in office, honored the Cubs, the 2016 World Series champions, at the White House on Monday afternoon.

“They said this day would never come,”  Obama said as he started his remarks. As he walked into the East Room, the boisterous audience, consisting of the extremely well connected, chanted in the singsong Chicagoans well know, “Let’s Go, Cubbies!”

Obama, relishing the moment, said he has a chance to say “Something none of my predessors ever had a chance to say, ‘Welcome to the White House, the World Series champion Chicago Cubs.

“I will say that the Cubs took long enough. I’ve only got four days left,” said Obama.

President Barack Obama holds up a personalized Chicago Cubs baseball jersey presented to him by Anthony Rizzo, right, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017, where the president honored the 2016 World Series Champion baseball team.

President Barack Obama holds up a personalized Chicago Cubs baseball jersey presented to him by Anthony Rizzo, right, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017. | AP Photo

After the event, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said, “That was the best sports ceremony ever.”

It’s routine for a championship team to be honored by a president. What’s unusual is that Obama sped up the timetable so he could salute the champs from his adopted hometown on his watch.

Obama has been a vocal White Sox fan, but was gracious in hosting the Cubs. Cubs president Theo Epstein issued a “midnight pardon” to the president for being a White Sox fan.

“Among Sox fans,” Obama said, “I’m the Cubs’ No. 1 fan.”

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Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who wears No. 44, presented Obama — the nation’s 44th president — with a No. 44 Cubs jersey with OBAMA on the back. When Cubs Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins suggested Obama wear the Cubs jersey, the president smiled and politely declined.

In a more serious note, Epstein told the president: “Thank you for the dignity and integrity with which you served our country.”

In the president’s last official event at the White House, the president explained why sports teams get honored by presidents.

“Sports has a way of changing hearts in a way that politics and business doesn’t,” Obama said.

The event, in the White House East Room, was crawling with Chicagoans, starting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff who brought with him his younger brother Ari, the Hollywood agent.  Other elected officials included Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan; state Senate President John Cullerton D-Chicago; Sen. Dick Durbin D-Ill.; Democrats Rep. Mike Quigley and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi and GOP Rep. Randy Hultgren. Former Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood was also at the ceremony.

State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, D-Chicago, said, “My love for the Cubs is not new, and it’s not a secret. I am just flat out lucky to have Wrigley Field in my district,” she told the Sun-Times.

“I am still floating on air about the Cubs winning the World Series. My admiration for the president is no secret either; seeing President Obama and the Cubs together — it’s a dream come true. I am just over the moon. Pinch me.”

The Ricketts family, which owns the Cubs, is very political. Parents Joe and Marlene Ricketts are megadonors to Republican candidates and causes. Their four kids are on the Cubs board: Laura Ricketts is a major Democratic donor and fundraiser, active in Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns. Todd Ricketts runs major GOP-allied political funds and is President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to be the deputy commerce secretary. Tom, the board chair, is a conservative, and Pete is the GOP governor of Nebraska.

Laura, Todd and Tom flanked the president during the ceremony.

Four current players who were on the World Series roster did not make the trip: reliever Hector Rondon and starting pitchers Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester and John Lackey. Arrieta said over the weekend he had family health issues to attend to.

Among former players attending were Aroldis Chapman, Dexter Fowler, David Ross and Chris Coghlan. Two former players from the World Series missed the trip: outfielder Jorge Soler and pitcher Travis Wood.

Epstein, Maddon and Rizzo all described how impressive the moment was when the president and first lady entered the room as the team was gathered and chatting before the public event.

“You could hear a pin drop,” Rizzo said.

“It really was an amazing moment when the entire organization was gathered around waiting for a while, and then the president and first lady bounded into the room with tremendous energy and gave really heartfelt remarks,” Epstein said. “You could tell this visit had a lot of personal meaning to them. the first lady talking about her days on the South Side as a Cub fan bonding with her father over their support of the Cubs. Clearly she was moved by the championship and it was a great moment for all of us.”