This was together time, Dave Martinez off the bus and off the rails, running from one side of the street to the other. If there’s someone the manager forgot to high-five or fist bump or take a selfie with, send him a note, because he might be right back. Mike Rizzo and Ryan Zimmerman, taking turns with the trophy and the masses, leaning over the fences to touch and be touched.
“Unbelievable,” Zimmerman said when he finally found a quiet spot — not to mention a Porta Potty — on Third Street, behind the stage. “So many people. Just so many people. Unbelievable.”
That’s the point — all the people, all of them together. Championships like the one the Nationals provided with their Game 7 victory over the Houston Astros just three days earlier make for individual memories. Each player who stepped onto that stage carried something that matters most to him. But each of the people who packed the parade route — on the steps of the National Archives, in trees and on signposts, smushed up against barriers — each of them has his or her own, too.
How Washington celebrated its first World Series victory in 95 years
Think about 12-year-old Cecelia Wright, who made up her white poster board congratulating these guys and got to the parade route early enough to find a spot along the fence. There was the wait for that final bus, the bus with Martinez the manager and Rizzo the general manager and Zimmerman the first baseman.
And when it finally got to Cecelia’s spot, here was Martinez — first on the street, then all but in her lap. He grabbed her sign. He posed for photos.
“Amazing,” she said. Her eyes beamed. Her smile must still be there, frozen on her face.
There is an unavoidable barrier between baseball players and the folks who root for them. Fans can’t fully comprehend the work that goes into preparing body and mind for each of 162 games, and it does players no real good to try to explain it, lest it come off as a complaint. Likewise, players can’t quite understand the mind-set of a fan, so emotionally wrapped up in the successes and failures of other people. Each needs the other, but what can they really share?
Saturday, that barrier came down, and they shared it all. There wasn’t “us” and “them.” There was just “us.”
After all the heroes — Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer, Howie Kendrick and Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto and Sean Doolittle, on and on — had preceded them, Martinez had the idea on that final bus. He and Rizzo and Zimmerman had already taken turns hoisting the World Series trophy high above their heads, and each time it was met with a roar from a crowd that stood 20 deep from the curb, that filled the steps of the National Museum of American History, that held all those signs — “Feeling ’24 all over again” and “Fight Finished” and “District of Clutch.”
So at 11th Street, still with eight blocks left to cover, the door to that last bus swung open. Out came Martinez. Zimmerman and Rizzo followed. They handed the trophy around. Let’s share this thing.
“This is for you,” said Rizzo, holding the trophy, speaking through clenched teeth that held his cigar. “This is for you!”
The fans soaked it up. It wasn’t long ago — like, say, three days earlier, in the top of the seventh, before Rendon homered and Soto walked and Kendrick homered again — when wondering whether an event like this would ever be real. Seventeen months ago, the Capitals broke the ice, and their Stanley Cup parade proved to the town that winning — so elusive for so long — was, indeed, possible.
As much as that victory — and that celebration — freed the city’s fan base, the Nats had to do it, too, to free themselves. When they reached Third Street and turned right in front of the Capitol, Zimmerman waved Scherzer aboard that last bus and handed him the trophy. The way Mad Max hoisted that hardware above his head, with teeth gritted so intensely you wonder if he wore them to the gums, it almost looked like he was preparing for his next start — which won’t be for five months. The people below the bus bellowed. It was Max’s moment. But it wouldn’t have been one without them.
“It’s an amazing show that this town put on,” Rizzo said. “Good for them. They deserved it. They earned it.”
Onstage, there was high hilarity and tenderness. Mark Lerner pulled out a pair of tinted shades before the speakers blared “Baby Shark,” and Gerardo Parra thanked the fan base he so riled up. Trea Turner addressed the elephant on Pennsylvania Avenue — “Can we bring back Anthony Rendon?” — and Adam Eaton followed up by asking the crowd, “All in favor?” The ensuing “Aye!” thundered back up the canyon of people.
Kendrick, the clang of his homer off the foul pole still fresh in the minds of the throngs, got deep. Before he came to Washington, before he became a Nat, he thought about retiring. Then he looked at his teammates.
“They taught me to love the game again,” Kendrick said. “This city taught me to love the game again.”
But for the day to be truly communal, Zimmerman had to take the mic. He had already sprawled on the stage to snap a photo of his teammates. He had lifted the trophy for anyone who asked. He had held his daughters, kissed his wife. The crowd in front of the stage chanted: “We want Zim! We want Zim!”
They got him. Unplugged.
“There’s not a team that I would have wanted to do that with more than these guys,” he said. His eyes were hidden behind his shades, but his voice cracked.
“The fans, we grew up together,” he continued. “I came here when I was 20 years old, right out of college. You guys hadn’t had baseball in a long time. You were learning how to be fans again. I got guys that come up to me now that are 30 years old and say I’ve been their favorite player since they were a little kid — which is disturbing.”
That’s what Saturday was about — remembering this October, sure, but remembering it with all the frustrations and foibles that came before it. Not as players and fans, separated. But as a city, together.
“What a group of guys,” Zimmerman said, turning back toward his teammates. “We’re 2019 World Series champs, and nobody can ever take that away from us.”
His voice cracked again. Don’t worry if, when you tell that story, yours does, too. That’s what Saturday was for — tears and hugs and smiles between players and coaches and fans. Maybe it won’t take 95 years for this to happen again. But there’ll never be another day like Saturday, when the District celebrated this first Nationals World Series title exuberantly and joyously and together. More than anything, together.