Postponement of Braves-Nats game the right call
Clubs shocked, saddened in wake of shootings at Navy Yard near Nationals Park
WASHINGTON -- Even after the players began showing up at Nationals Park on Monday afternoon, even after they put their uniforms on and began doing the things they almost always do, they knew there would be no game. There just couldn't be.
"This is a day to grieve," Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said simply.
To play a game when their city had just been battered by an act of incomprehensible evil would have made no sense. For the Nationals, it wasn't one of those crimes that they watched play out on television and social media.
The Nats play their home games a few blocks from the D.C. Navy Yard, where 13 people died on Monday when a gunman opened fire and eventually was killed himself.
For a few hours, the Nationals told their employees to stay home as streets around the park were closed and reports circulated that police could be seeking as many as three gunmen. At times, the streets around the park resembled a war zone. Players arrived to find they had to talk their way past barricades and SWAT teams.
So the sights and sounds of the ballpark on Monday were sirens and flashing lights, helicopters overhead and law enforcement personnel flooding the area. Just beyond the left-field wall, police cruisers, lights flashing, were lined up to close a web of streets.
One of the parking garages at Nationals Park was turned into a waiting area for family and friends of Navy Yard employees. With people scared and hurting, indeed with an entire city trying to get its collective mind around the shootings, the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals simply couldn't play their scheduled game.
Eventually, players began arriving at the park anyway. In their text messages with one another, it was clear almost none of them expected to play or wanted to play. Yet there's also comfort in the routine.
Stephen Strasburg and Ross Detwiler played catch in the outfield as Nats pitching coach Steve McCatty watched. Meanwhile, the Braves took over one of the indoor batting cages and took some swings as things unfolded in the neighborhood around the park.
They'll get back to it on Tuesday with a doubleheader, and with Washington clinging to playoff hopes and Atlanta on the verge of clinching a division championship, there are plenty of storylines.
For a few days, though, the sadness will linger, hovering in the thoughts and minds of fans and players alike. When Johnson was asked how the Braves could be prepared to play on Tuesday, he shrugged.
"Hopefully, we'll do something to take people's minds off things for a few hours," Johnson said. "That's all we can do."
Baseball has done that in the past. President Franklin D. Roosevelt urged the sport to keep going during World War II, believing people needed something to interrupt the drumbeat of war news.
Baseball seemingly helped some New Yorkers deal with their grief in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. So the Nationals and Braves will get back to work on Tuesday, and at some point, things will start to feel normal again.
All the Nats and Braves know for sure is that playing a game on Monday would have been the wrong thing to do at a time when so many people were scared and trying to get their minds around this latest incident.
"It makes our game seem so unimportant when something like this happens," Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "It's the right call."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.