WASHINGTON — In the aftermath of shootings that left at least 12 dead Monday morning a few blocks from Nationals Park at the Washington Navy Yard, the opener of the Braves’ highly anticipated series against the Nationals was postponed and will made up as part of a Tuesday doubleheader.
“It makes our game seem so unimportant when stuff like this happens,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said after the announcement that Monday night’s game had been postponed. “It’s the right call, doing what we’re doing. You don’t want 40,000 people or so coming in here, for their safety. Who knows what’s going on? It’s the right call, and also out of respect for the people who lost their lives and their families.”
Starting times for Tuesday’s split doubleheader are 1:05 p.m. and 7:05 p.m. The Braves can clinch the National League East division title by winning two of three in the series against the second-place Nationals.
The postponement was not made official until 3:12 p.m., nearly seven hours after the shootings, less than four hours before the scheduled first pitch, and an hour or more after most players from both teams had already arrived at the ballpark.
“We got on the bus at 1:30 and we were all still wondering, why are we getting on the bus?” Braves relief pitcher Scott Downs said. “Baseball, I think, was the last thing on everybody’s mind. Once they heard the tragedy that went on and the extent, and heard there was still somebody out there, they don’t know…. I think that’s the last thing anybody wanted to do was come to the ballfield.”
Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said, “That’s way more important than baseball and clinching a division and home-field advantage and all that stuff. People lost their lives.”
While one shooter was killed, District of Columbia police said early Monday afternoon that they were still searching for two other possible gunmen in the vicinity. With that charged atmosphere awaiting, and an air of uncertainty hanging over the city, the Braves boarded a bus at the team hotel across the Potomac River at Arlington, Va., and took the short but tense trip to Nationals Park.
“There were a lot of guys that didn’t really want to play, that thought it was kind of disrespectful to play,” Johnson said. “It happened right across the street, and to be over here cheering, and they’re using a parking lot for families (of victims) and stuff like that?
“I don’t know, it should just be quiet for today. That’s kind of what we thought. And (the Nationals) had their rep come over and, I think, talk to (Braves player representative Brandon) Beachy, and they felt the same way. So they made a call to the players’ association to try to get this cancelled for today.”
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said, “It’s a very emotional day. An extremely horrific act happened very near to the ballpark. Our neighbors at the Navy Yard, our thoughts and prayers go out to all the victims over there and all of the people affected by this. We felt it was inappropriate to play a major league baseball game with such tragedy right down the street.”
As for the delay in postponement, he said, “There’s a lot of (logistics) that go into canceling the game for these reasons. We have to be in contact with the federal authorities, the state and D.C. authorities to have a coordinated effort and whenever you cancel a game, obviously MLB is involved and we have to go through the correct procedures with that.”
At around 10:30 a.m., Nationals manager Davey Johnson told Washington newspapers that he and Washington players had been told to stay away from the ballpark until further notice.
However, Gonzalez was permitted to enter Nationals Park when he arrived at noon, and the Braves were told shortly thereafter that their players could enter the ballpark as usual.
A machine-gun toting law-enforcement officer stopped the Braves bus near the ballpark and informed the driver that he would have to take a different route. At every corner in the vicinity, police were stationed, the lights atop their cars flashing. All afternoon and into the early evening, sirens wailed from nearby streets.
“You wouldn’t know you’re in the United States,” said Gonzalez, while standing barely a mile from the Capitol building, which is visible from the Nationals Park pressbox. “Stuff like this shouldn’t happen in the United States…. But it does. More and more.”
Several streets around the ballpark were blocked off all day as a perimeter was established around the sprawling Navy Yard complex, and a ballpark parking lot was used as a staging area for families of victims and others evacuated from the Navy Yard.
The Metro (subway) station used by fans going to Nationals Park is the Navy Yard stop. It was closed immediately after the shootings, but re-opened by mid-morning.
At 2 p.m., a group of Nationals Park food-service employees exiting the subway at the Navy Yard station cursed loudly and repeatedly about being told to come to work despite the situation unfolding only a few blocks from the ballpark.