A soft breeze whipped around Nationals Park on Monday afternoon, a seemingly idyllic day where the sun splashed down upon the lush green canvas. Stephen Strasburg worked from the bullpen mound under the watchful eye of pitching coach Steve McCatty. Others played catch in right field.
But this was anything but an idyllic day.
The flags in center field were raised only to half-staff, and sirens blared constantly from the streets surrounding the ballpark. Police, who had a heavy presence on the ballpark’s perimeter, checked identification badges just to turn onto specific streets in the area.
Any sense of normalcy was shattered just after 8 a.m. Monday morning when at least 13 people were killed, with others wounded, in the shootings at the Naval Sea Systems Command Headquarters at the Washington Navy Yard. The building sits mere blocks from Nationals Park.
“It’s really scary,” said Washington Nationals right-hander Dan Haren, who was scheduled to pitch Monday night. “It’s scary just what one person or two people can do, how many lives they can affect.
“We’re just seeing too many of these things happen. It’s so unfortunate. … You just never know when, [and] you never know why.”
In light of the tragedy, the Nationals postponed their 7:05 p.m. game against the Atlanta Braves and scheduled a split doubleheader with separate admission for Tuesday at 1:05 p.m. and 7:05 p.m. The ribbon atop the team’s website read simply, and chillingly, that the game was “Postponed: Tragedy.”
“It’s a very emotional day,” said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, who worked with federal and local law enforcement, along with Major League Baseball, to decide how to proceed once news of the shooting came to light.
“An extremely horrific act happened very near to the ballpark, [to] our neighbors at the Navy Yard. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the victims over there and all of the people affected by this. We felt it was inappropriate to play a major league baseball game with such tragedy right down the street.”
Haren said he awoke to the news in a text message from his mother, and players spent much of the day communicating about whether or not a game would be played. They hoped it would not.
“Kind of the general consensus was that we really didn’t want to play, just out of respect for the families and everyone involved,” Haren said.
Many Braves players loaded onto the team buses from their hotel in Pentagon City around 1:30 p.m., even though they did not know at that time whether or not they’d be playing a game.
“We got on the bus at 1:30 and we were all still wondering ‘Why are we getting on the bus?’” said Braves reliever Scott Downs. “Baseball, I think, was the last thing on everybody’s mind. … I think the last thing anybody wanted to do was come to the ballfield.”
Haren arrived at the ballpark around 2 p.m., roughly two hours earlier than he normally would on a day he pitches, in hopes the game would indeed be postponed and he would get his routine throwing in. Several others did the same, though with a heavy feeling. Many sent out tweets conveying their thoughts and prayers to the victims.
“Baseball obviously has to go on at some point,” Haren said. “But it’d probably be a little too quick tonight to try to come in here, have fans come in here, and try to get up for a baseball game because of how bad everyone feels about what happened.”
Monday morning, the Nationals readily allowed authorities to use their Lot B parking garage on South Capitol and N Streets as an area for Navy Yard family members to reunite in the aftermath of the shootings. The team was “thrilled,” to be able do so, Nationals spokesman John Dever said.
“For us to do our part was easy,” Dever said.
The team did not postpone the game until just after 3 p.m., though, after most Nationals players and many Braves players and personnel had already arrived at the stadium. The decision took that long to make because of the complex nature of the issues involved and “the immense coordination that it takes to make these decisions with federal and local authorities,” Rizzo said. “It’s just a timely process.”
But the feeling of Nationals ownership, as more details about the tragedy continued to emerge, was always that playing any game would be inappropriate.
In a statement released by the team, the Nationals said the “safety of our fans is our utmost priority. … The Nationals security personnel will continue to work closely with all levels of law enforcement to reinforce the already high level of security in place at Nationals Park, and to ensure that our visitors always have a safe experience.”
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said postponing the game was the “right call.”
“You wouldn’t know you’re in the United States,” said Gonzalez. “Stuff like this shouldn’t happen in the United States, but it does. More and more.”
From a baseball standpoint, Haren will pitch in the first game of the doubleheader on Tuesday, against Mike Minor. Atlanta’s Freddy Garcia will face Nationals right-hander Tanner Roark in the nightcap.
“I know it’s really only a 15- or 16-hour delay in the game,” Haren said. “We’ll still be thinking about it tomorrow.
“But, this is our job and we’re going to have to try to come out and play and try to win a baseball game, as inconsequential as that may seem. We’re going to have to come out and do our jobs.”