Nobody really expected them to win the World Series, just like nobody really expected him to become the 44th president of the United States. But they stood together Friday afternoon in front of the South Portico of the White House, world champions of baseball and president, celebrating the Phillies' first championship in 28 years.
"This is a team that never gave up," Obama said. "You weren't supposed to win your division. You weren't supposed to win postseason series against the Dodgers and Rays. And even though the stretch between the top and the bottom of the sixth inning in Game 5 took two full days of rain, you came out before the toughest fans in sports to win Philadelphia's first major championship since 1983."
The Phillies had been scheduled to visit the White House on April 14, but that visit had to be postponed after Harry Kalas' death April 13 before a game against the Nationals at Nationals Park.
"Harry left us as he lived -- in the ballpark, preparing to call another game for his beloved Phillies," Obama said. "And I know a season without the warm comfort of his voice is difficult, but I also know this, that Harry is here with us in spirit today and he is proud of all of you."
Obama mentioned the contributions of Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Brad Lidge during the season. He mentioned how Charlie Manuel persevered after he lost his mother during the postseason. He talked about fellow Hawaiian Shane Victorino.
"He was pointing out the Hawaiian flag on the carpet in there," Obama said.
Obama thanked Jimmy Rollins, who campaigned for him after the World Series.
"Sports and politics, they tell you don't do that," Rollins said. "But at the same time, I'm a U.S. citizen first."
But besides complimenting the Phillies on their memorable season, Obama mentioned some of the contributions the players have made off the field.
He mentioned how Utley works on behalf of pediatric hospitals. How Lidge supports wounded warriors. How Hamels helps those suffering from HIV/AIDS in Africa. How Ryan Howard works with Boys & Girls Clubs and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
"And just as the number of African-American kids taking up baseball is in severe decline, the impact of having role models like Ryan and Jimmy to look up to just can't be measured," Obama said.
"You know, Jimmy likes to say that nothing comes easy in Philly. And that's why I think that so many Americans found themselves rooting for this extraordinary team. As Americans, we know a little something about being underdogs. We know a little something about coming together when times are tough. And like this team, we remember a simple truth, which is that we rise and come together. No one individual is bigger than the team."
Rollins later handed Obama a Phillies jersey with his name and No. 44 on the back. He also gave him an autographed baseball.
"Can I have your ring, too?" Obama joked.
Rollins kept the ring.
"He's a down-to-earth guy," Utley said of Obama.
"He's definitely got energy, and he seemed like a guy who would definitely stand up for himself," Manuel said. "An upstanding guy, you can see that. I was impressed with him. I liked him and think he's a very interesting person."
Others expressed the same feelings.
"He tried to post me up in there," Rollins said. "I asked him where the basketball court was, and he said, 'I've got a foot on you.' I told him that I'm too quick. So hopefully I get that invite when the hardwood is done. Throw a couple layups on him."
There is one way to get invited back: win another World Series.
"This was a good way to really put the last chapter on 2008," Manuel said.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less