Sep 17, 2013, 1:02 PM EDT
The Nationals are used to encounters with prominent politicians and other Washington newsmakers, but Tuesday morning’s clubhouse visitor (and his reason for stopping by) was particularly notable.
Admiral James A. Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, handed out Navy caps for players to wear prior to the Nationals’ doubleheader opener against the Braves and thanked members of the organization for their assistance after Monday’s mass shootings at the nearby Navy Yard.
“The whole Nationals organization stood up for our military family,” Winnefeld told manager Davey Johnson.
When tragedy struck the Navy Yard, the Nationals postponed their game and rescheduled a doubleheader for Tuesday. One of the ballpark garages (situated only three blocks to the west from the shooting) became a makeshift gathering place for family members to locate loved ones who had been in harm’s way. Nationals ownership, in addition to offering the garage, also provided food and drinks for those who found themselves assembled in the garage for hours.
Winnefeld, a four-star admiral and the second-highest-ranking member of the U.S. Armed Forces, took time to speak to several players and other members of the organization, offering his thanks and handing out blue and gold Navy caps to be worn during pregame warmups.
“When he thanked me, I was like: ‘Why are you thanking me?'” reliever Craig Stammen said. “We didn’t need to play yesterday. It would have been pointless, I think.”
Stammen, who along with teammate Ross Detwiler, were part of a USO tour of Afghanistan led by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey last winter, is among the biggest military supporters on the roster.
Like everyone else with the Nationals, Stammen had trouble comprehending what happened Monday so close to his workplace.
“It’s almost surreal and unbelievable,” the right-hander 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. We have to move on and prove we’re capable of moving on from that and being a better nation.”
Shortly before first pitch on Tuesday, the Nationals and Braves a moment of silence for the shooting victims and first responders who rushed to their aid. The entire Nationals roster aligned in front of their dugout, wearing their patriotic, navy blue jerseys and the special Navy caps given to them by Winnefeld.
The Nationals hope their return to the field will help the entire area regain some sense of normalcy after a harrowing day, much in the same way sports have provided an escape from previous national tragedies.
“No doubt,” Johnson said. “I really feel that way. I think sports here in America gets you to quit thinking about your problems and problems in the world. Look at some highly talented, young athletes compete. It keeps us sane.”
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