Bush says Sox's title took a lot of guts ... and hair

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 No. 43, campaigned for Bush.

Catcher Jason Varitek had a red jersey bearing the No. 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.