Teams attempt to move on after tragedy puts baseball on back burner
WASHINGTON -- The flags at Nationals Park flew at half-staff Tuesday morning. As the city tried to heal from Monday's shooting at the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters, the Nationals and Braves also tried to move on.
"I think sports here in America get you to quit thinking about your problems and problems in the world," Nats manager Davey Johnson said. "Look at some highly talented young athletes compete. It keeps us sane."
The Nationals postponed Monday's scheduled game against the Braves in light of the shooting, which left at least 13 dead and several others injured just a few blocks east of Nationals Park. The two teams scheduled a day-night doubleheader Tuesday.
"It's almost surreal and unbelievable," Nats reliever Craig Stammen said. "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."
Center fielder Denard Span slept in Monday morning and woke up to texts from family and friends asking if he was OK. Confused, Span checked his Twitter feed and turned on the news. He said that he spent half of the day glued to the TV.
"It hit me hard. This is right across the street from our stadium," Span said. "Yeah, it puts things in perspective. This is just a game. These were people's lives that were lost yesterday."
As Nationals players trickled into the clubhouse Tuesday morning, they were forced to confront a number of emotions. In the wake of tragedy, both teams had to somehow get back to work and play a September doubleheader with postseason implications.
"It's 'get back to normal, get these guys back to doing what they know how to do,' which is play baseball," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "It seems like the sooner we get back to normal, the healing process starts."
Span was asked if baseball could somehow help people heal.
"I doubt it, I'm going to be honest with you," he said. "I know there are a lot of hurt families out there, and we're just going to try to do our part hopefully in trying to help it, but there's nothing we can do to replace the lives that were lost yesterday."
Shortly after 10:30 a.m. ET on Tuesday, Adm. James A Winnefeld, Jr., Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walked through the Nats' clubhouse, thanking players and handing out Navy hats to be worn during batting practice.
Because of the stadium's proximity to the Navy Yard, the Nationals were able to offer a stadium parking lot as a place for workers at the military complex to reunite with their families.
"When the chips were down yesterday, the whole Nats organization stepped up for our military family," Winnefeld told Johnson after handing him a hat. "So, from the Navy family to the Nats family, thank you so much."
There was an extended moment of silence before the first game of Tuesday's doubleheader. Both teams lined up on the field in front of their respective dugouts and bowed their heads.
Several Nats players held the Navy hats over their hearts.
"To us, it's just a baseball game," Stammen said. "But it's something to get your mind off what just happened. Hopefully, it will provide that for the rest of the city."