Players, their families and airport staff were up to the task upon their arrival home, a potential harbinger of the festivities to come as the city readies for Saturday’s parade down Constitution Avenue. A media circus camped out on the far end of the airfield to witness players disembarking their charter. Five television stations covered it live.
Airport officials invited seemingly every Nationals fan on the runway to come over, too. Close to 100 of them clad in red waited jubilantly for the plane to touch down.
About 15 minutes before the plane landed, staff distributed red rally towels that read, “Fight Finished,” the team’s new slogan. Moments later, an air traffic controller queued up Queen’s “We Are the Champions” on a Bluetooth speaker and placed it on the portable jet bridge.
As the team’s aircraft taxied down the runway, it was greeted by a water cannon salute from two airport firetrucks. The air traffic controller held the speaker aloft and played “Baby Shark.” Zimmerman exited the plane first and waved a red, white and blue team flag as Manager Dave Martinez hoisted high the Commissioner’s Trophy, the latest addition to Washington’s trophy case.
When the Washington Capitals snapped the District’s title drought in 2018 with a Stanley Cup finals triumph, they paraded the trophy around Washington — one of its first stops was Nationals Park — in a fit of revelry those players hoped would inspire D.C.'s other teams. If that didn’t do the trick, Capitals players partied for days on end.
Since, the Mystics won their first WNBA crown. Then the Nationals mounted an improbable late-season and playoff run, capping it off by beating the American League champion Astros with four wins on the road.
Immediately, players were eager to show they could party up to a moment for which the region had been waiting 95 years.
In the clubhouse at Minute Maid Park in the early hours of Thursday morning, they guzzled beer and poured various libations over the trophy and sprayed one another with champagne. The Nationals’ quirky personalities — part of what has made them so endearing to fans — was on full display. Shortstop Trea Turner wore a North Carolina State football helmet (his alma mater) and danced. Relief pitcher Sean Doolittle wielded a bright blue light saber. Zimmerman, the franchise’s first draft pick after it relocated to Washington from Montreal in 2005, could barely formulate complete sentences in televised interviews.
As each player on the championship team stepped off the plane, Nationals support staff, which arrived on a separate charter, and airport employees, who were waved past barricades to celebrate up close with the team, cheered them on.
Reserve outfielder Gerardo Parra was greeted with “Baby Shark” claps. Stephen Strasburg, who won two games on the mound in the series and was named its most valuable player, was treated to “MVP” chants. Second baseman Howie Kendrick, who hit the home run that gave the Nationals the lead in Game 7, heard his first name repeated, rhythmically, over and over again.
Children walked off the flight wearing Halloween costumes. Among them were mermaid, Darth Vader, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and Max Scherzer outfits.
Fans who wanted to greet players themselves parked in the airport’s cellphone waiting lot hoping to get some face time with their heroes. The team and airport did not publicize the time of the flight’s arrival, though word leaked out.
Josh Newlon, 31, of Ashburn spent an hour with his girlfriend waiting for any sign of the team. Finally, its charter buses, complete with a police escort, roared past. He chased them down and drove alongside until the motorcade reached the Dulles Toll Road.
“As a fan base, we just want to show some love to the team,” he said. “We want to feel as much a part of this as possible, even if that means standing by the side of the road waving a rally towel.”