- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 18, 2021

Dave Martinez heard the gunshots right away. The Nationals manager looked above the third base dugout and saw fans starting to scramble. As the commotion ensued, and Martinez was told the gunfire was outside the ballpark, Martinez focused on getting everyone off the field — ushering players, coaches and even the fans into the lower level of the stadium. 

“For me, it was just about protecting our people,” Martinez said, “our own.” 

Not even a full 24 hours later, Martinez was back at Nationals Park after a shooting caused Saturday’s game between the Nationals and the San Diego Padres to be postponed. Police said three victims were shot, with their injuries believed to be non-life-threatening. 

Speaking to reporters, Martinez praised the way team security, police and other first responders handled the situation. He said players are “calm” entering Sunday’s doubleheader with the Padres, wanting to get back to a sense of normalcy. 

But Saturday’s incident was hardly normal. Nationals pitcher Patrick Corbin was seen in a video in full uniform, wandering the concourse while on the phone. San Diego’s Fernando Tatis and Manny Machado led fans to their dugout and through the tunnel to get to safety. Martinez said he stayed at the ballpark until around 1 a.m. — hours after the shooting took place — to gather his thoughts and made sure everyone was safe. 

On Sunday, Martinez became emotional when asked about fans who may be scared to go to a game. Beyond Saturday’s shooting, there have been a series of violent incidents around Nationals Park in recent months — including when an Uber driver was shot and killed in May. 

“I love this city. This city is my home,” Martinez said, who paused for several seconds and whose voice started to crack. “It can get crazy. We all know that. We all want to feel safe. I can tell you that inside this ballpark, I feel safer than ever. I really do. 

“We care about each other. We don’t want anybody getting hurt. For me, yesterday, I tried to protect as many people as possible.”

Martinez arrived in the District in 2018 from the Chicago Cubs. The fourth-year skipper led the Nationals to their first championship in 2019 and his consistently positive attitude has helped weather rough moments for the club.

D.C. police executive assistant chief Ashan Benedict said Saturday that police believe the incident started when gunfire was fired from one car toward another. Police officials are still looking for one of the cars involved — tweeting images Sunday of a gray Toyota Corolla with a missing hubcap. Benedict said one of the victims, a woman who was shot, had been attending Saturday’s game. 

Martinez said in the moments of the shooting, players were concerned for their families’ safety. Martinez said he tried to reassure them that they would all be OK, helping them inside. MLB teams regularly go through drills in case of an active shooter situation, though Martinez said “you don’t ever think it’s going to happen.” 

Martinez thanked fans for “doing the best they could” to stay calm. Ballpark officials guided people out through gates in center and right field. 

“I’m just glad everybody is safe,” Martinez said.

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