As the Washington Nationals were introduced, players and coaches trickled out to the balcony and steps overlooking the South Lawn. The military band below played a rendition of “Baby Shark,” the team’s unofficial anthem. The thousands looking on cheered.
Just five days after winning the World Series, the Nationals were honored at the White House on Monday as president Donald Trump congratulated the ball club for a historic season.
On a bright sunny day, Trump recalled famous moments from the team’s season and periodically called up members of the team to speak over the course of a 27-minute speech.
Trump said that America “fell in love” with the Nationals, noting that’s all people wanted to talk about.
“That and impeachment,” the president quipped, drawing laughter. “I like Nats baseball much more.”
As is customary when sports teams are honored at the White House, the president received a customized jersey — with first baseman Ryan Zimmerman handing Trump a Nationals jersey with “No. 45 Trump” on the back. Catcher Kurt Suzuki, too, donned a “Make America Great Again” hat when he was called up to address the crowd.
“I didn’t know that was going to happen,” said Trump, who gave Suzuki a bear-hug from behind as the catcher raised his arms.
Zimmerman thanked Trump for the invite, adding it was an “incredible honor.”
“We’d also like to thank you for keeping everyone here safe in our country,” Zimmerman said, “and continuing to make America the greatest country to live in the world.”
In total, 24 players from the Nationals attended the event, 18 of whom were on the World Series roster. Seven of the team’s 25-man roster did not show up: third baseman Anthony Rendon, closer Sean Doolittle, outfielder Victor Robles, reliever Javy Guerra, outfielder Michael A. Taylor, reliever Wander Suero and pitcher Joe Ross.
Trump praised the Nationals throughout the afternoon, predicting their World Series victory was going to be “the first of many.” He singled out individual performers — from Suzuki’s three-run walk-off homer to cap off a seven-run rally in the bottom of the ninth on Sept.3 to moments in the playoffs like Stephen Strasburg’s and Max Scherzer’s performances in Game 6 and 7. He referenced “Baby Shark” and manager Dave Martinez’s ejection in Game 6 after a controversial call that ruled shortstop Trea Turner out when running to first.
“I thought it was a terrible call,” Trump said.
Trump said Scherzer pitched more with his “heart than his muscle” in Game 7, noting the ace’s neck injury that caused him to miss Game 5. Last Wednesday, Scherzer gutted through five innings and threw 103 pitches, stranding nine runners on base.
“To be at the White House, what a month,” Scherzer said to the crowd. “What a magical month. When the city gets behind you and your teammates believe in each other and you have (players) one through 25 on the roster competing, magic happens. What a day to be able to share it all with you.”
When Strasburg stepped to the microphone, the World Series MVP noted the team’s history — climbing out of a 19-31 record to eventually win it all. The 31-year-old said the struggles only made the celebration that much better.
After Strasburg finished his remarks, the pitcher was met with chants of “Four more years!” That was an apparent nod to Strasburg’s contract status after the ace opted out of his seven-year deal Saturday in order to hit free agency. Trump joked the chant was for “four more World Series wins.”
Trump did not mention being booed in the series when he attended Game 5 at Nationals Park. Instead, he praised owners Ted and Mark Lerner, who did not sit with the president at Game 5, and called them a “great family.”
Trump also made reference to the historic nature of the Nationals’ accomplishments. This was the District’s first World Series title in 95 years. He noted how Calvin Coolidge was the president when Washington last won it all in 1924.
Trump, too, highlighted the team’s ability to overcome a poor start. He complemented them for “staying in the fight.”
“I’m sure the media was with you all the way,” Trump said. “I remember some nasty stories.”
The White House announced approximately 5,300 attended the ceremony, which was made available to the public. Trump called the gathering a record for those on the South Lawn, though it wasn’t immediately clear if it was.
Shortly before the event finished, general manager Mike Rizzo and Martinez made closing remarks.
“Not a baseball town?” Rizzo said. “Not even close. Huge baseball town. What a great fan base we had. The playoffs, the latter part of the season and the playoffs, you guys were electric. It was unbelievable.”
“We’re proud to say that we are the (2019) World Champions in a season that unified the region when the region needed unifying the most,” he added later.