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Michelle Obama: It's Still Baseball Season, but . . . Tennis Anyone?

5 years ago
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While it's clear that President Obama is a loyal Chicago White Sox fan -- he wears the black and white hat and jacket of the South Side team frequently -- less well known is that, unlike her husband, First Lady Michelle Obama actually grew up on the South Side of Chicago following the Cubs. That's puzzling, since the Cubbies are the North Side team.
I asked one of Mrs. Obama's staffers in the East Wing on Tuesday to explain. Growing up, I was told, Mrs. Obama watched the long-suffering Cubs with her dad. The East Wing could not tell me if she still pulls for the Cubs, whose record for futility now spans more than 100 years. (The Chicago Cubs haven't won the World Series since 1908 -- and haven't even appeared in one since 1945, some 19 seasons before Michelle Obama was born.) Maybe the president was able to bring her along to his team. Anyway, their marriage has endured more than cross-town baseball rivalries. And since neither Chicago team is in the World Series, Mrs. Obama can cheer for either the Philadelphia Phillies or the New York Yankees (or both, depending on who her favorite players are) during the Amtrak Series when she is at Game One Wednesday night in New York.
Mrs. Obama and Second Lady Jill Biden -- in their second joint appearance in a week (on Friday they discussed breast cancer awareness at a White House event) are traveling to New York for the game as part of their focus on military families. A public service announcement the two women made earlier this year about veterans will be shown at the game. The network broadcasting the World Series, by the way, is Fox, but the enmity the White House is showing Fox News evidently does not extend to Fox Sports.
Major League Baseball is dedicating the first four games to a series of civic-minded causes that could have come out of Mrs. Obama's playbook.
Game One is dedicated to returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan and the first pitch will be thrown by a military vet. The theme for Game Two is community service. Game Three, cancer awareness. Game Four, encouraging sports for inner-city kids. All of these are issues in Mrs. Obama's portfolio.
Before the Series' opening game, the women will visit the James J. Peters Veterans Administration Medical Center in the Bronx with some members of the Yankees and Major League Baseball executives.
Since we're on sports, let's move from baseball to tennis and golf. I'm following up on Jay Leno's interview with Mrs. Obama Friday night when she talked about her tennis game and the Sunday news that the president, for the first time since he took office, invited a female -- domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes -- to join his golf foursome.
Leno asked Mrs. Obama about the most annoying habit the president has. "Oooh. We don't have enough time. He has no annoying habits, right Jay? None. He's perfect. But, when he, you know what, you know what, when he beats me at tennis, that gets to be pretty annoying and he beats me quite often," she said.
It turns out, that aside from her workout routines, Mrs. Obama's big sport is tennis. She does not golf, the East Wing told me. While in Chicago, Mrs. Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha took tennis lessons from a private instructor. At the White House, Mrs. Obama and the president play occasional sets on the tennis court hidden on the South Lawn. There's been a tennis court at the White House since 1903.
The First Couple also played tennis during their summer vacation on Martha's Vineyard; the tennis court was on the property they rented. The First Couple prefer singles to doubles. "She is really liking her tennis," an East Winger told me. "She is playing more and more." And just as President Obama has golfed and shot hoops with staffers and friends, so has Mrs. Obama tapped a staffer to play with.
Mrs. Obama has played on several occasions with her chief of staff -- and pal -- Susan Sher. Sher's take, I am told, is that Mrs. Obama is a great player and a natural athlete. (Sher on Tuesday was with pal and White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett in southern California. Sher and Jarrett flew out for a forum on women at the Long Beach Convention Center hosted by California First Lady Maria Shriver and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.)
Mrs. Obama has had a chance to meet two tennis greats who visited the White House this summer. Last July, President Obama, before flying to St. Louis to throw the ceremonial first pitch at the All-Star baseball game, hosted Wimbledon champion Serena Williams at the White House. (To show what a die hard White Sox fan Obama is, he wore his White Sox jacket to the mound when he hurled the ball at the All Star game. He said later on the Fox telecast, "My wife thinks I look cute in this jacket.")
Tennis great Billie Jean King was also at the White House in July, when she was one of 16 people to be honored with a Medal of Freedom.
On Thursday, Mrs. Obama will help harvest the crops from the White House garden, which has yielded some 700 pounds of food and tons of good publicity for the first lady. Among the items planted last April, now ripe with significance to this sports themed column: tennis ball lettuces.

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