Jalen Davis was just two weeks into his sophomore year at De La Salle High School on the South Side of Chicago before receiving one of the more unique excused absences a student could have.
"Today was a school day," Davis said by phone from Washington, D.C. "But it was the best field trip we've been on."
That field trip started with a 4:30 a.m. CT meeting at U.S. Cellular Field and ended with a flight back to Chicago late Thursday evening. In between, members of the White Sox Amateur City Elite junior team, made of 14- and 15-year-olds, got a chance to tour the nation's capital VIP style.
And they also had a special private meeting with the White Sox First Fan, President Barack Obama.
"Each day building up to today as I would think about it, I would get chills," said White Sox manager of youth baseball initiatives Kevin Coe, of meeting the president. "It's No. 1 on the list of life experiences, a life-changing opportunity."
"It was mind-blowing," said Alfred Lewis, Jr., who is a freshman at Mount Carmel and was a catcher on the White Sox junior team. "I couldn't believe it when he walked in the room. It was amazing."
Through personal relationships, the White Sox managed to arrange this special visit with President Obama. He was aware of the White Sox ACE program, a youth baseball initiative comprised of Chicago high school players and aimed at molding the character of these young men as much as developing their ability to hit the curve. And the junior team earned the trip through its second-place finish at the recently completed 2012 RBI World Series.
After the pre-sunrise gathering at U.S. Cellular, the travel party in the neighborhood of 25 got on a bus to O'Hare Airport. A tour of the U.S. Capitol, set up through U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, was first on the agenda, followed by lunch at Art Smith's restaurant, Art and Soul. Smith, a Chicagoan and the one-time personal chef for Oprah Winfrey, cooked up a full, tasty meal, then took time to chat with the kids.
From there, the White Sox group received a behind-the-scenes tour of the White House, including areas where the general public normally wouldn't have access.
"Basically, the stuff I was learning when I took the Constitution [test], I was able to step into the room and see it hands on," Lewis said of the tour.
All of this historical significance and great food still was trumped when President Obama walked into the diplomatic room, where the White Sox group was waiting on the south side of the White House. According to Coe, President Obama gave a "Chicago White Sox" shout out when he entered and then took the time to shake hands and introduced himself to every player.
One of the kids was so nervous that when President Obama approached and asked for his name, the young man couldn't come up with an answer.
"He laughed and gave him a hug," said Coe of the president's reaction to the stunned young man.
"I tried not to say someone else's name when he asked me my name," Davis said. "Before he came in the room, every shadow I saw, I peeked, and it wasn't him. My heart dropped as soon as he came in the room. He's the most powerful man in the world."
President Obama did more than talk about the White Sox, who he hopes will hold off Detroit and at the very least capture the American League Central, in his 15 minutes with the group. He spoke of the importance of school and working hard and how he was proud of what they accomplished.
Sam Kass, a Hyde Park native and former baseball player who now serves as White House assistant chef and the senior policy advisor for healthy food initiatives, also shared stories with the group for another 20 minutes. Pictures were taken, texts were sent and White Sox vice president of communications Scott Reifert, who was part of the traveling party and helped set up the meeting, told one story of a young player speaking of his mom crying because she was so happy her son met the president.
Both Davis, who played center field and pitched for the ACE squad, and Lewis, would like to extend their baseball career to the pro level. They are looking at college and careers beyond the diamond, which ultimately is one of the main preparatory goals for the White Sox ACE program. Thursday's meeting reinforced that point for a lucky group of young men, who were left speechless after President Obama departed.
"I'm just hoping these kids are old enough to understand what happened today and be able to go home and relay the message," Coe said.
"In such a little time, he made such an impact," Davis said of President Obama.
"Never in life did I think I'd have this opportunity," Lewis said. "You can tell he's smart by the way he was talking to us. Just an incredible guy, very nice."