On Saturday night, gunfire outside Nationals Park sent fans scrambling down to the dugouts and ducking in their seats in search of safety. Three people were shot, and Washington’s game against the San Diego Padres was abruptly suspended.

The next morning — before the mayor addressed the incident, before the conditions of the victims were clear — it was Dave Martinez who found himself asked by a reporter to reassure employees who were afraid to come to Nationals Park to do their work, or fans who were afraid to come see Martinez and his team do theirs.

The 56-year-old didn’t search for a cue from the nearest person in public relations. He did not attempt to suggest that, as manager of a baseball team, this question shouldn’t be his to answer. Martinez did not distance himself from the fear and the anger and the sadness. He shared those emotions.

“I love this city. This city’s my home,” he said, tears visible in his eyes.

“It can get crazy; we all know that. And we all want to feel safe. I can tell you that, inside this ballpark, I feel safer than ever — I really do,” he said. “We care about each other. We don’t want anybody getting hurt. For me, yesterday, I tried to protect as many people as possible.”

Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez spoke to reporters July 18 about the nearby shooting that left three wounded and suspended a game the night before. (Washington Nationals)

Martinez has emerged this season as the steady voice of the franchise, an effective and empathetic communicator in times of trouble — of which there have been many. He is consistent in his compassion and steady in his positivity.

This city is accustomed to watching people in positions of power come and go, their motivations often personal and their words calculated. But since the Nationals hired him in October 2017, Martinez has provided something responsive and reliable, a caring voice that rises with simple compassion to even the most complicated moments. On Saturday night, with one of the scariest moments in Nationals history unfolding, it was Martinez’s fellowship that echoed in the aftermath, with the manager telling a security guard to let fans remain in a normally private stadium area, saying that the team’s fans are its family.

Even before Saturday night, Martinez had met repeated trials with similar empathy throughout this sometimes trying season. The Nationals’ year began with a coronavirus outbreak that postponed Opening Day, then rolled through disappointing injuries and a sub-.500 record.

Then late Thursday night, the Nationals learned that MLB would place infielder Starlin Castro on administrative leave as it investigates an allegation of domestic violence. The news was jarring to many, including Martinez, who had defended Castro when he briefly stepped away from the team in June to deal with unspecified “family matters.”

Castro left the team for a reason unrelated to the incident for which he is being investigated, according to multiple people familiar with the situation. But Martinez was among those in the organization who worried they had violated their own standards by putting him on the field without knowing about the accusation.

“I would have never, ever …” Martinez said Friday. “This is a totally different situation. If I would have known about this a month ago, we would have had a different conversation, I’ll tell you that.”

Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo often touts the organization’s “due diligence” in vetting players. Martinez often echoes the notion. But Castro had been accused of assault in 2011 after an incident during his days with the Chicago Cubs.

Though he was not charged in that incident, the fact that there was any kind of issue in his past was easily discoverable. Whatever the Nationals felt about his history, they decided to make him a part of their team anyway. Martinez was here for that decision, too, though personnel decisions often fall primarily under the front office’s purview.

Still, Martinez last week flipped the familiar, detached script that conversations about domestic violence in baseball have often followed. In the past two weeks alone, Los Angeles Dodgers CEO Stan Kasten joked to reporters about his reluctance to talk about sexual assault allegations against Trevor Bauer. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and players’ union head Tony Clark defended their joint domestic violence policy as “robust” and appropriate despite having three players known to be under investigation and having placed three men on the ineligible list in the past year after accusations of sexual misconduct and harassment. Martinez, though, appeared uncalculated and unequivocal.

“What I can tell you about me and this organization, as you know, we do not tolerate any kind of domestic abuse. Speaking for myself, I think it’s awful,” said Martinez, who added later that he loses respect for anyone who treats people that way. Few MLB leaders have been so unwavering in their condemnation.

Martinez is the longest-tenured manager in Nationals history. He also is the longest-tenured coach or manager in D.C. men’s pro sports, which speaks to his ability to wade through chaos and earn the trust of those around him.

When the Nationals hired Martinez before the 2018 season, he did not have many ties to the area. He also inherited a set of challenging circumstances. Baseball lifer Dusty Baker had departed after the Nationals lost to the Cubs in the 2017 NL Division Series. Anyone replacing him would be inheriting the implicit understanding that being a nice guy and leading the team on a playoff run were not enough to earn loyalty from the franchise. Martinez was stepping into a situation that most would enter with caution, with emotional walls built high, but he seemed determined to be himself from the start.

When the 2019 Nationals fell to 19-31, Martinez did not bristle or toss blame. He was so relentless in his support that his go-to lines — “The boys battled” or “Go 1-0 today” — became running jokes around the city, until, of course, they transformed into championship mantras. Where other Nationals seasons with inauspicious starts had almost always led to similarly inauspicious endings, Martinez somehow willed a sense of possibility into a veteran clubhouse that probably should have known better.

By the end of that year, Martinez had endeared himself to fans as something they hadn’t seen before — a different, more relatable leader for a team that rarely has seen its managers stick around for long. After he suffered a heart attack in 2019 and found himself hollering at an umpire during the World Series in Houston, Nationals fans behind the dugout reminded him to take care of himself.

“Your heart, Davey!” he remembers one calling. “Your heart!”

Again and again, Martinez’s heart has been on display, not as a solution to the problems his franchise, sport and city have faced but as a clear-eyed comfort while navigating them. When the city needed a voice to reassure it Sunday morning, Martinez assumed the role — his voice quiet as ever, tears in his eyes, sharing in the trouble instead of sheltering himself from it.

The Nationals rarely have been skilled at shielding themselves from trouble. But in Martinez, they seem to have the kind of voice that franchises go decades without finding — one that can own mistakes with dignity, meet emotionally charged moments with empathy and address disappointment with decency.