Sep 17 9:00 PM

Day after Navy Yard shootings, somberness hangs over Nationals game

Holding Navy hats, Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson, right, and others observe a moment of silence before a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on Tuesday. The Nationals wore Navy hats, presented to them by Adm. James A. Winnefield, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before the game, to honor those killed and injured in the attack Monday at the nearby Washington Navy Yard.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon

WASHINGTON | Anthony Kane has been helping pass out fliers for Sundance Vacations before Nationals games since baseball returned to the District of Columbia. But Tuesday was different.

Putting down his fliers for a moment, Kane talked about how his father was working at Navy Yard during Monday's mass shooting that killed 12 people. He recalled being parked in front of his TV, frantically calling his mother to see if his father was safe. The cell-phone service at Navy Yard made it difficult for him to reach his father until later in the day.

“I’m still numb to it all,” said Kane.

Just five blocks away from where Monday's deadly shooting rampage happened, a somber smattering of a few thousand fans made their way through the turnstiles at Nationals Park where there were noticeably more security guards than a normal game here. Outside the stadium in The Fairgrounds area that's usually packed with boisterous fans drinking beer and playing the game corn hole before Nationals games, fewer than 50 people were around before first pitch. A trumpet player blew his horn to the theme from the “Rocky” franchise, an inspirational tune.

But for Kane, not hearing as many fans talk about Monday's events made for a different kind of dynamic in the day after the mass shooting.

“If you look at Virginia Tech or Columbine or any of the big shootings, everyone was glued to their TVs,” said Kane, a 33-year-old manager for Sundance Vacations. “Right now, I don’t see people chatting about it. They don’t want to talk about it."

A needed distraction

Anthony Kane works outside the centerfield gate at Nationals Park on Tuesday.
Timothy Bella

Baseball has been one of the go-to events in the aftermath of some other tragedies. Two of the most vivid examples include New York following 9/11 and Boston days after the Boston Marathon bombings.

On Tuesday, the Nationals, with the flags lowered at half-staff, offered a moment of silence before the first game of the doubleheader caused by the cancellation of Monday’s game. The players, still visibly shaken by yesterday’s events less than a mile away in their pregame press conferences, wore blue and gold Navy hats in memory of the victims.

“It’s almost surreal because you wake up in the morning and there are people getting shot at a block from the stadium,” Nationals pitcher Craig Stammen told the Washington Post. “When you’re thinking about your day-to-day life, you don’t think that stuff is going to happen. It did. That’s the way it is. We gotta move on and prove that we’re capable of that moving on from that and being a better nation.”

Keith Yarborough, 57, has been coming to pro baseball games since before the Washington Senators moved to Minnesota in 1961. He hopes that people coming to the ballpark immediately after the mass shooting signals “back to business as usual.” Yet, there’s some uncertainty.

“People are gonna go through a grieving process, and some may never get over it,” Yarborough said. “Still, I wouldn’t live anywhere else.” 

Whether baseball can help Washington return to some sense of normalcy remains unclear. At Navy Yard, a herd of camera crews remained camped outside the main gate on what was a slow afternoon. But five blocks away at the ballpark, today’s game, a walk-off win for the Nats, seemed to have been a small step toward getting there.

“This is D.C.,” said Kane, cracking a smile. “I’d say they’d like it to be back to normal right now.”


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