WASHINGTON - The Boston Red Sox finally made it to the White House on Wednesday, savoring one of the last fruits of their World Series victory before launching their quest for a repeat.
President Bush summed up the feelings of the hundreds of Red Sox faithful shivering on the White House's south lawn, as he turned to the World Series champions lined up behind him and asked with a grin, "So, like, what took you so long?"
Boston's self-proclaimed band of idiots, barely recognizable with their clean-cut hair and neatly pressed suits and ties, were invited to the White House in what has become a traditional ceremony for American sports champions.
Despite the frigid cold, Sox fans sporting well-worn caps and crisp new championship T-shirts, cheered and chanted for their first Series victors in 86 years.
"Welcome to the citizens of Red Sox Nation," said Bush. "Some have said it would be a cold day when the Red Sox made it here."
Bush praised Boston's team spirit and winning style, joking that it "took a lot of guts and it took a lot of hair." As the crowd roared and yelled Johnny Damon's name, the grinning center fielder flipped his trademark mane.
In the audience were members of Congress from Red Sox Nation, including Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.
"I wish my father were here to see this," said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass. "I think about 10 million people are wishing the same thing."
Many fans gripped baseballs, and when Bush finished his short remarks, they rushed the stage, cornering their favorite players for autographs.
Bush, a former owner of the Texas Rangers, had a lot of supporters and a few detractors in the lineup. Pitcher Curt Schilling, who presented him with a white baseball jersey emblazoned with his name and the number 43, campaigned for Bush.
Catcher Jason Varitek had a red jersey bearing the number 2 for Vice President Dick Cheney.
Red Sox principal owner John Henry and general manager Theo Epstein both supported Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, a Massachusetts senator who showed up a bit late for the ceremony. Also in the audience was Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, a Democrat, whose city hosted the Democratic convention last summer.
"You've had a heck of a year, mayor," Bush told him.
Markey said Bush also apologized to Kerry for starting the ceremony without him. Earlier, Bush, Kerry and other lawmakers were at a Capitol Rotunda ceremony where baseball great Jackie Robinson was posthumously awarded a Congressional gold medal.
The Red Sox will kick off their defense of the World Series title Thursday night, with their first spring training game against the Minnesota Twins.
After an 86-year drought, the Sox won their last eight games on the way to a World Series victory last October. Boston staged an unprecedented comeback from three games down against the Yankees in the AL championship series and swept the St. Louis Cardinals.