The secret to Nats' clubhouse chemistry? Sticky darts

August 10th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Jessica Camerato's Nationals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The series was locked up at one apiece as Hunter Harvey and Lane Thomas took their positions behind a clubhouse couch. With precision and laser focus, they squared up a distance away from the small, round table to compete for bragging rights and a highly coveted victory.

Thomas had forged a comeback to take round one, only for Harvey to sweep the second round. It all came down to these final moments in the best-of-three to see who would win this matchup of …

Sticky darts tic-tac-toe.

“You know what? You can win a few games in the World Series, but to win the whole thing, you’ve got to win most of the games,” said Thomas, the eventual victor. “And I’ve won most of the games, so I think I’m the champ so far.”

In a clubhouse that was shaken up at the Trade Deadline, the game has provided a consistent outlet for team building and camaraderie. Bullpen catcher Brandon Snyder originally had purchased it for his children, but he ended up bringing it to the ballpark for the players. Sticky darts became an instant clubhouse favorite.

“I love that game now,” said Luis García. “I think that’s the big thing -- we play together, we have fun.”

The original rules are similar to cornhole: Players take turns trying to throw their yellow/purple and blue/green darts closest to an orange marker stuck to the table. As a bonus, landing directly on top of the marker scores 10 points.

The game was taken to another level when players noticed a schedule grid displayed on a TV that resembled a tic-tac-toe board. They began throwing the darts to stick to the boxes on the screen, and then they transformed the table into a nine-square grid with tape. First to land three in a row wins, with two darts in the same square canceling each other out.

“It gets pretty competitive in here,” said Thomas.

Sticky darts are played by pitchers and position players alike. Asking around the team for power rankings, Harvey and Thomas were strongly mentioned in the top two.

Harvey, who dubbed himself the best without hesitating, noted, “I stopped keeping track; it’s too many wins.”

Although he thinks success has a lot to do with luck, Harvey also emphasized the importance of floating the darts versus spinning them -- “almost like throwing a paper airplane.”

While Harvey believes Thomas has been successful with a “low and hard throw [that] somehow sticks every time,” Thomas has his own proven strategy he kept to himself when the competition began.

“I’ve thrown a lot of darts in my life,” Thomas said. “We always had a dartboard in the back porch, and it came naturally, I guess.”

Steve Cishek received a shoutout for second place from Kyle Finnegan, who ranked himself “3B” to Thomas at “3A.”

“I would say I’m in the top half,” said Finnegan. “I think it’s a unique combination of accuracy and consistency. … I feel like I’ve been able to climb the ranks a little bit. … It’s not quite up there with winning a Major League Baseball game, but it’s a good feeling.”

The Nationals already knew each other as competitors on the field. Through sticky darts, they have learned another side of their competitive natures.

“It’s important because sometimes, you see people and you think they’re another person, like maybe they don’t talk too much. But it’s a different personality when you start to play with them,” said Andres Machado, who noted the game helps build a family-like environment.

Finnegan even gained a glimpse into what goes on in the dugout when he’s in the bullpen.

“I’ve gotten to know [Yadiel Hernandez] a lot better through the darts,” Finnegan said. “I was playing against him, and he started screaming my walkout song at me, singing it (“Edge of Darkness” by Greta Van Fleet). Then I found out, Lane told me, every time I come in to pitch and Yadi’s on the bench with him, he sings it when I come in. I thought that was hilarious.”

The players have discussed the possibility of expanding the competition to a tournament style. For now, they will go battle by battle, rematching close showdowns and welcoming in new competitors as roster moves are made.

“[It’s] great,” said Harvey. “It’s just a fun clubhouse game.”