Braves make trip to White House
Several players meet President Bush in Oval Office
WASHINGTON -- As Tim Hudson and a few other Braves representatives enjoyed the rare opportunity to spend Friday afternoon in the Oval Office with George W. Bush, he was impressed with how much the president knew about the current world of baseball.
As he shared approximately 30 minutes with Hudson, John Smoltz, Jeff Francoeur, Brian McCann and Braves general manager John Schuerholz, Bush asked McCann about some of the nagging injuries he's battled this year and told Smoltz that he'd watched much of his Wednesday night performance against the Mets.
"It was really special, to be honest with you," Hudson said. "Not many people get to see that side of the president with one-on-one conversations. He kind of became one of the guys for a little while."
Back when he served as the Texas Rangers' owner and a much-younger Julio Franco was one of his favorite employees, Bush was kind of like one of the guys with Schuerholz. They shared a short period together on one Major League Baseball committee. Since assuming his role as president, Bush has found ways to keep himself updated on baseball's daily events. He made it known that he realized Francoeur has one of the game's best outfield arms and indicated that baseball is on the television whenever he's writing a speech.
Thus, when this meeting came to a close and Bush indicated he wanted to get some pictures, Schuerholz understandably, but at the same time mistakenly, thought the president was issuing an order to fix the current state of the Braves.
"[Bush] said we need some pitchers -- that's what I heard," Schuerholz said. "I said without missing a beat, 'Well, we've been trying for two months, Mr. President, but we can't get any.' He said, 'No, John, pictures.'"
Adding to the comical moment, Hudson pointed toward Smoltz and said, "What are we, chopped liver?" While Schuerholz was unable to land a veteran starting pitcher over the past couple of months, he and his players now will have individualized pictures that will commemorate the afternoon they shared with the president.
Once each of the Braves representatives had their picture taken with Bush, they witnessed him board Marine One to head to Camp David for the weekend. As the helicopter roared above them, the president pointed toward Schuerholz and his players.
"The whole day was just absolutely impressive," Schuerholz said. "He was very, very congenial and very accessible. He made it very comfortable for us."
When the Braves arrived at the White House, Bush was walking from one building to prepare to meet with the children and wife of a soldier who was recently killed in the Middle East.
As soon as he saw Schuerholz, he made his way toward the group, shook hands and let them know he was looking forward to their meeting.
"It was neat just to see what a regular guy he is," Francoeur said. "But it was also neat to see just how busy he is every day."
As Bush was meeting with this family, the Braves were given a tour of the White House. Schuerholz had been given similar tours, and had even been in the Oval Office before. But he'd never seen the president's desk with the president present.
"It's much more meaningful when he walks in the door," Schuerholz said. "He's the most powerful man in the free world, who happens to love the thing that we do -- those of us that were there. It was a very enjoyable event."
It was an event that was scheduled with the assistance of Sens. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). Bush had also requested the presence of Braves manager Bobby Cox, Chipper Jones and Mark Teixeira.
But because this meeting wasn't officially scheduled until Thursday, the Braves had trouble reaching Jones, who recently changed his cell phone number, and Teixeira. As for Cox, an avid Bush supporter who has had the opportunity to meet him on other occasions, he regularly gets to the stadium before noon, and thus felt he couldn't attend.
Because he'd sent his suit to the dry cleaner on Thursday, Francoeur was forced to buy a new sports coat for this meeting. But given that he was able to experience a chance to hear Bush express his views on the war and then talk baseball made it a no-brainer purchase.
"It was probably one of the coolest days I've ever had in my life," McCann said. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.