Jason Heyward on White House visit: 'This is the ultimate time'

WASHINGTON -- TheChicago Cubssay their trip to the White House comes at an opportune time and holds more significance than that of a typical World Series champion's visit.

Monday is the beginning of the last week of Chicago native Barack Obama's administration -- and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"This is the ultimate time to go to the White House as an athlete, to meet the president after winning a ring," Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward said at this weekend's Cubs winter fan convention. "For me, being an African-American, there's something (special) about it. And for my teammates who are from Venezuela, there's something about it, guys from Alabama or Mississippi (or wherever), there's something about it for them. Yes, there's a lot of significance for a lot of different reasons."

Dexter Fowler, Heyward's good friend, agrees. Fowler said via text that "he had to see (President) Obama" before he left office. After the Cubs won the World Series, Fowler signed as a free agent with the Cardinals.

The Cubs could have waited and visited in June when they play the Nationals. But after Obama's invitation soon after their World Series win in November, the Cubs scrambled to make it happen before he left office.

"When you get invited to go to the White House, you say 'yes,'" team owner Tom Ricketts said last week. "We're excited. It's a plus that President Obama is a Chicagoan -- although he's a Sox fan."

The Cubs are hopeful to "convert" Obama, as several players put it.

"It's an honor to get an invite from the president, especially a high-profile guy like Obama," shortstop Addison Russell said. "We're excited. There's probably about three people I would be starstruck by, and he's one of them."

Second baseman Ben Zobrist added: "I've never been to the White House before. I'm excited to step foot into it. It's such a historical building. It's incredible to think just doing something athletically can give you the opportunity to do that."

Zobrist was part of a World Series-winning team in 2015 as a member of the Kansas City Royals.But he wasn't able to join his former teammates because they went to the White House midseason while Zobrist was playing for the Cubs. By going on Monday, several former Cubs players, including Fowler, will be able to attend.

"I've talked to a couple of people that have gotten to go there and see it, and they said seeing the whole production is cool," pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. "Just how many people are working on the grounds there. It's an awesome opportunity to see the White House, and I'm glad a lot of our team from last season can make it."

There will be some absences, such as pitcher Jake Arrieta, but no one is claiming to be skipping the visit for political reasons. Some had conflicts considering the last-minute scheduling of the ceremony. But for those who are going, it's another reminder that the Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

"I'm just going to try and not get arrested," reliever Justin Grimm joked. "It's cool. How many times do you get to go see the president, right?"

More than one player expressed an interest in seeing Obama and the next president. It would mean achieving a rare feat in baseball -- repeating as champions. The Cubs have a shot; they're favorites to win the World Series again.

"It's pretty cool," Heyward said. "We have a unique situation to see two presidents in the same year if it works out the same way."

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