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Bush Makes Angels Feel Like Household Names

Champions get a tour, Rose Garden reception and private meeting in the Oval Office.

May 28, 2003|Bill Shaikin | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush greeted Darin Erstad by name, without the assistance of a name tag. As Bush strolled through the Oval Office, shaking hands with the Angels and chatting with each player, the center fielder shook his head in amazement.

"That's pretty cool," Erstad said. "The most powerful man in the world knows your name."

The Angels enjoyed the final perk of their World Series championship Tuesday, a visit to the White House that included a tour, Rose Garden reception and private meeting with Bush in the Oval Office. They sounded sincerely appreciative that Bush would share his morning with them and impressed that he carried himself more like a fan than the leader of the free world.

"The whole experience was incredible," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "The thing I'm going to take back was how genuine the president was."

Said pitcher John Lackey: "It was cool to see how down to earth he is, especially with the power he holds."

Bush spoke publicly in the Rose Garden, to an audience packed with Cabinet members, California congressmen and White House staffers, flanked by the Angels and their World Series trophy.

"I'm just standing behind him thinking, that's really him," right fielder Tim Salmon said. "I kept looking at him saying, those little shoulders have the weight of the world on them."

Bush, the former owner of the Texas Rangers, greeted Angel owners old and new. To Arte Moreno, in his sixth day as the Angel owner, Bush said, "It's pretty quick how things happen in America. You buy the team, now you're at the White House."

Bush also saluted the Angels' founding owner, Gene Autry. "I know that he's smiling down now," Bush said, "looking at the Rose Garden and realizing his beloved Angels have finally won the world championship."

As if on cue, a staff member from Orange County waved a rally monkey in the audience when Bush asked, "Where is the rally monkey?"

Although Bush invited David Eckstein to a White House dinner in November, the president still mangled the pronunciation of the shortstop's last name. Eckstein didn't care, because he was too busy laughing that Bush teased him about wearing a new suit for Tuesday's ceremony.

"That's pretty cool, having the president pick on you," Eckstein said.

Bush also needled his press secretary, Ari Fleischer, a die-hard Yankee fan.

"I appreciate the message you delivered him," Bush told the Angels.

Scioscia presented the president with an Angel jersey, with his last name and No. 1 on the back. The Angels later presented Fleischer with a framed copy of The Times sports page from the day after they won the division series, with the headline "The Yankee Rippers."

After the ceremony, Bush invited the team inside the Oval Office, where he spoke of the history of the office, the respect he holds for the presidency and the integrity with which he strives to conduct his affairs. He greeted each player, surprising Erstad by asking about his time as a punter at Nebraska and Salmon by inquiring about his minor league days in Bush's hometown of Midland, Texas.

Lackey marveled at seeing the desk from which Bush addresses the nation. Erstad posed for a picture behind the desk. Utilityman Shawn Wooten brought out his video camera, until he was told to shut it off and take snapshots instead.

And then, after spending about 40 minutes with the champions, Bush bade farewell.

"Thank you," he said. "Now I've got to go sign a bill."

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