Admiral James A. Winnefeld clasped Craig Stammen’s hand tightly. He shook it, looked the Washington Nationals’ right-hander right in the eye, and thanked him. He did the same to Chad Tracy, to Tyler Moore, to manager Davey Johnson, and to a host of other players and staff.
He said a few sincere words, shook their hands, and offered them a Navy cap to wear during batting practice.
“Beat those Braves, all right?” Winnefeld said to Johnson.
The Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff made his way through the Nationals’ clubhouse Tuesday morning with a purpose.
In the wake of the tragedy on Monday morning, in which at least 13 people were killed, with others wounded, in the shootings at the Naval Sea Systems Command Headquarters at the Washington Navy Yard, Winnefeld came to offer his thanks to the Nationals for what they did.
The Nationals did not play on Monday, postponing their game out of respect for those affected by the shooting, and they opened one of their parking garages to families trying to reconnect. They also provided food to those families.
To them, it was a small sacrifice.
“When he thanked me, I was like, ‘Why are you thanking me?’” Stammen said. “We didn’t need to play yesterday. It would have been pointless, I think. And it’s easy to play a doubleheader. Ernie Banks liked playing doubleheaders, so we can, too.”
The Nationals donned the special caps, some navy colored with a yellow block ‘N’ on the front panel, others with the word ‘NAVY’ written across them, during their pre-game work. And as they prepared to play a doubleheader in the shadow of the Navy Yard, they understood the responsibility they had to help the grieving move forward.
“That’s the thing about this game,” said right-hander Stephen Strasburg. “It allows people to come here and not really think about everything else that’s going on. For a few hours, watch us go out there and play this game, hopefully it’ll be a relief for people today and we can get a couple wins.”
Perhaps it is the mere everyday nature of baseball, unrelenting from April through September, that it often bears the burden of helping people move on when something unthinkable happens. For six months, there’s little more routine than a baseball game being played. So even when normalcy is shattered, it can be that simple return to routine that helps the grieving, in a small way, move on.
“If we can provide that for the rest of the nation and Washington, D.C., we definitely should be able to do it,” said Stammen. “To us, it’s just a baseball game. But it’s something to get your mind off what just happened. Hopefully it will provide that for the rest of the city.
“It’s almost surreal and unbelievable. You wake up in the morning and there’s people getting shot at a block from the stadium. When you’re thinking about your day-to-day life, you don’t think that stuff’s going to happen. But it did. That’s the way it is. We have to move on and prove we’re capable of moving on from that and being a better nation.”
As both teams assembled in front of their dugouts for the anthem, the scoreboards went black and public address announcer Jerome Hruska asked for a moment of silence.
“In the face of this horrific act,” Hruska said. “We remain united.”
The Nationals donned their alternate ‘Stars and Stripes’ jerseys for the day, and held their Navy ballcaps over their hearts during the national anthem. Though they were not allowed by Major League Baseball to wear the Navy caps during the game, they were honored to accept them.
“The whole organization stood up for our military family (Monday),” Winnefeld told Johnson. “Thank you, so much.”
“Thank you,” Johnson replied. “For all you do.”