Shortly after 10:40 a.m. on Tuesday morning, over 24 hours after the tragic Navy Yard shootings,Â Navy Admiral Sandy Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared in the Nationals clubhouse. As he approached each player, he thanked them for what the team had done and for what hope they could provide. And then, he promptly handed each player he met a dark blue cap with a gold “N” on it, the Navy logo.
“Thank you,” Winnefeld said, as he shook Craig Stammen’s hand and handed him a hat. The two talked for a minute and Stammen reiterated how he felt. “It’s just a game,” he said. Stammen understands baseball’s place in life. The game is played every day, and the normalcy of the sport could help restore order to area that was utterly shaken on Monday.
“To us, itâ€™s just a baseball game,” he said. “But itâ€™s something to get your mind off what just happened and hopefully weâ€™ll provide that for the rest of the city.”
Center fielder Denard Span applauded the team’s decision to postpone Monday’s game because of the safety concerns with the ongoing investigation. He was headed to Nationals Park late on Monday afternoon on a hunch the game would be cancelled. His mother was in town, and friends and family had texted him earlier in the day asking him if he had come to the stadium. He was glued to the television for part of the day, watching the news and checking Twitter for updates. “It was tragic,” he said.
But could baseball help the Navy Yard neighborhood and the city heal?
“I doubt it,” he said. “Iâ€™m gonna be honest with you. Thereâ€™s a lot of hurt families out there. We just want to try to do our part, hopefully, trying to help it. Thereâ€™s nothing we can do to replace the lives that were lost yesterday.”
Before the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader, the entire Nationals roster lined up outside the dugout. Wearing their patriot blue uniforms, they held their Navy caps in their right hands and over their hearts. Manager Davey Johnson stood at the front of the line of players.Â Johnson received his cap from Winnefeld in the clubhouse and was proud to wear it.
“From the Navy family to the Nationals family, thanks,” Winnefeld said as he shook Johnson’s hand. He thanked Johnson for the Nationals opening up Lot B for families to meet on Monday and for feeding them. He was grateful the Nationals moved Monday’s game to Tuesday, but apologized that they would have to play two games in one day.
“We can handle it,” Johnson said. The two chatted some more.
“My grandfather was in the Navy,” Johnson said. “My father was in the Army.”
“I kinda like your grandfather,” said Winnefeld, who had played in theÂ Wounded Warrior Celebrity Softball Classic at Nationals Park on Sunday. “Beat up the Braves.”
“We need two,” Johnson retorted.
“You need three,”Â Winnefeld said, with a smile.
Later, Johnson shared his belief that the everyday nature of baseball could provide a distraction to a reeling city.
“I really feel that way,” he said. “Sports here in American gets you to quit thinking about your problems in the world and can look at some highly talented young athletes compete. It keeps us sane.”
“If we can provide [relief] for the rest of the nation and Washington, D.C., then we definitely should be able to do it,” Stammen added. “We have no problem playing every day. Weâ€™re used to doing that. Yesterday was a day off for us and to think about what happened and move on. Today, weâ€™re turning the page and ready to continue on. …
“Itâ€™s almost surreal because you wake up in the morning and there are people getting shot at a block from the stadium. When youâ€™re thinking about your day to day life, you donâ€™t think that stuff is going to happen. It did. Thatâ€™s the way it is. We gotta move on and prove that weâ€™re capable of that moving on from that and being a better nation.”