Hawkins to attend Obama inauguration

By Alyson Footer
Updated: January 17, 2009

HOUSTON — Astros reliever LaTroy Hawkins and his wife, Anita, watched the outcome of election night in November and casually discussed making the trip to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

Although Anita had a chance to score tickets through a well-connected friend, they still figured odds might be slim they could actually make it happen.

“I said, ‘No way she’s going to be able to get tickets,'” Hawkins said in a phone interview with MLB.com from his hometown of Prosper, Texas, on Saturday. “But she worked it out and got us tickets. She said, ‘Somehow, someway, we’re going to go.'”

And off they’ll go, as will millions who plan to flock to the nation’s capital for a historic event that comes on the heels of a presidential race that captivated the country for the better part of the past two years.

For the Hawkins family, the election of Obama, who will be the first African-American president in United States history, is profoundly significant. Hawkins, African-American and the father of a 16-year-old son, Dakari, and 7-year-old daughter, Troi, likened Obama’s election to Jackie Robinson’s breaking baseball’s color barrier more than 60 years ago.

“Jackie Robinson showed my grandfather and my uncles and my father that anything is possible,” Hawkins said. “You can do it. Obama is showing my kids — my kids who have seen that their dad has been successful — that you can do anything. In my household, it’s important, because it shows you can be successful in something other than sports.

“For an African-American man to hold the highest honor in the country, it gives my kids hope that if you put your mind to it, work hard, keep your faith first, anything can happen. You have to stand for something.”

Hawkins and his wife both grew up near Obama’s home state of Illinois, in Gary, Ind. Through Anita’s connections, they’re going to the Illinois gala Monday night and the inauguration Tuesday. Anita is participating in the entire four-day extravaganza, whereas Hawkins plans to fly back to Texas after Tuesday’s festivities so that he can resume preparing for Spring Training.

Hawkins wasn’t a staunch Obama supporter from the very start, but warmed up to the President-elect as he learned more about him. Hawkins agreed with some of Obama’s policies, but not all of them. By the time election day rolled around, the pitcher was sold on the Illinois senator.

“It took me a while to sit down and listen to Obama and see how down-to-earth he is,” Hawkins said. “He’s so normal. Most presidential nominees seem to be untouchable. He doesn’t give that aura that he’s untouchable.”

Marveling about how much the country has evolved, Hawkins noted that it is a parent’s obligation to tell children how important this time is for the country.

“We’re making strides in the right places, strides in racism,” Hawkins said. “People say racism doesn’t exist. That’s not true. There are still traces all over our country. But it’s definitely getting better.

“For Obama to win the election by so many votes, that shows you that the bitter taste in our mouth of racism is slowly, slowly going away. A lot of races voted for Obama. That shows he touched everybody. It doesn’t matter what color you are. All races, every walk of life — he touched everyone.”

The process to score inauguration tickets was somewhat unnerving for Anita Hawkins, but well worth it. She wasted no time working the phones the morning after the election, first calling her friend Francina Norman, who hosts a show on the Oxygen Network, and who received an allotment of tickets for the Illinois ball.

“I said, ‘We have to go,'” Anita said. “[Francina] said, ‘I have 10 tickets.’ I said, ‘I need two.'”

Another friend, Maryland real estate agent Natalie Middleton, obtained tickets to the most coveted event — the swearing-in ceremony. Middleton also took care of the toughest assignment — scoring LaTroy and Anita a hotel room in a city that was completely sold out.

Anita, who met Obama at an event she attended with her children during the campaign, found the whole process to be a family bonding experience. Troi, an enthusiastic Obama supporter known to place bets with her classmates prior to election day, camped out in front of the television the night of Nov. 4 with her pretzels and various other snacks and watched the results unfold.

“She dozed off right before, but I woke her up,” Anita said. “I said, ‘He won.’ [Troi] said, ‘I knew that already.'”