“This all just feels so extraordinary,” said Blitzer, the veteran CNN anchor.
“I did a little bit,” conceded Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), holding out his fingers. “I did mini-shark.”
Who could blame him? Even on a night when the Washington Nationals came up short on the field, towels were waving, fans were screaming, and the World Series had formally arrived in the nation’s capital, an experience that at least temporarily allowed the city to press pause on national security concerns, congressional hearings and an impeachment inquiry that until recently seemed to have sucked all the available oxygen out of Washington.
“This is a lot better than my day job recently,” said Warner.
The Houston Astros topped the hometown team, 4-1, on Friday, which means the Nationals carry a two-games-to-one lead into Saturday’s Game 4 in the best-of-seven series.
The disappointing finish unfolded in front of a bipartisan, enthusiastic, and uniquely D.C. crowd. Los Angeles might have movie stars and New York might have Wall Street’s savviest, but the Nationals’ appearance in the World Series — the city’s first such game since 1933 — cast a spotlight on the District’s version of celebrity, drawing together pundits, lobbyists and politicos who are otherwise drifting apart in one of the most tumultuous periods the nation’s political class has known. For many, this Nats run comes at the perfect time, a thin red thread holding together the city’s political factions.
“At the end of the day, we’re a company town,” NBC’s Chuck Todd said. “Washington exists and thrives because of the government. And when the government is at war with itself, Washington is in knots. It’s not a fun place to be. But then we have the Nats.”
Todd watched Friday evening’s game with his son, superstitiously wearing the same shirt and hat he wore as the Nats made their way to the sport’s biggest stage this month. The “Meet the Press” host said this October has been unusual in Washington because the political discussions have felt so heavy but the Nats have provided the perfect emotional counterweight for many.
“I’ve had a few conversations with sources complaining, but then we’re all able to calm down for a second and say, ‘Are you going to the game?’ ” he said. “It’s probably cut down on the number of reporter-source arguments over the past two weeks.”
Talking shop these days — be it in newsrooms or Capitol Hill offices — often focuses on Republican-Democratic squabbling over impeachment, the Trump administration’s withdrawal from Syria or the steady drip of palace intrigue oozing out of the White House. But for fun, water-cooler chatter inevitably comes back to pitching matchups, bullpen maneuvering and speculating on Nationals phenom Juan Soto’s career trajectory.
“It has been a unifying thing in the city,” said CNN’s John King, who watched Friday’s game alongside his two sons in the club level on the first base side. “If you lift your head and look around and do what I do every day, there’s a lot of not-so-unifying things going on in the city. So it’s nice to have a great escape in sports.”
No one pretends that a baseball team is bridging the capital’s ideological gaps. But the Nats have provided common ground, a temporary, one-month-only safe space. The Nats’ World Series run is an experience shared by the Washington that has elected to live here and that chooses to. It’s embraced by the Washingtonians who ride the Metro, punch a clock and send their children to public schools, and that other Official Washington, an only-in-D.C. population of neckties elected to office, power brokers pulling strings, TV pundits filling airtime and journalists pushing deadline. It’s a weird collection, no doubt, and it’s much easier for them all to agree on Nats pitcher Max Scherzer than any piece of policy coming from Capitol Hill.
The city’s twin passions produce some only-in-D.C. scenes, such as the encounter near a men’s room Friday night between Jeff Flake, the former Arizona senator, and Scherzer’s father, Brad. The Nats’ ace is friendly with Flake dating from his days playing in Arizona, and Flake showed Brad Scherzer a photo from a Capitol tour Scherzer took with Flake and the late senator John McCain in 2016.
Need evidence the impeachment inquiry was on hold for the night? Yes, that was House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), one of the three chairmen of the probe, cheering along the left field line, mostly hidden under a red Nats bucket hat.
Official Washington was just a small fraction of the crowd, of course. Fans showed up in all shapes and sizes — the announced attendance was a sellout crowd of 43,867 — many dressed as sharks in a nod to the team’s unofficial anthem, most everyone else in red. Comedian Dave Chappelle was in a suite, astronaut Buzz Aldrin was in a suit, and Bill Nye, a noted science guy, was in the Nats’ dugout before the game.
For the night, nearly everyone appeared to be on the same team, bobbing up and down in the same sea of red that wrapped around the stadium.
“Washington is so polarized, and people are so divided into their political tribes, and to have something everyone could agree on and everybody feels good about is pretty welcome — something to be savored,” said Chris Wallace, the Fox News host.
Columnist George Will, the baseball enthusiast whose political commentary is published in newspapers across the country, including The Washington Post, helps throw a party every year on Opening Day, the kind of soiree that often attracts both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“People in Washington need something other than politics to talk about,” Will said. “Bruce Catton, the great Civil War historian, said baseball is the greatest conversation topic ever invented.”
There was no top-level baseball in Washington from 1972 to 2004. Many questioned whether the city could support a baseball team. Two major league teams had previously abandoned the District.
Even if there were doubters — and plenty of complications in bringing a team to town, building a new stadium and fielding a roster that could somehow compete for a championship — baseball has long captured the imagination of official Washington, dating back at least to 1910, when Howard Taft threw out a ceremonial first pitch on the Washington Senators’ Opening Day, the first of 18 sitting presidents to do so.
President Trump has yet to throw out a first pitch but is planning to attend his first Nats contest Sunday for Game 5.
“It’s a special event,” said Mark Lerner, the Nats’ managing principal owner. “He should be at it.”
The Nationals’ leadership chose who would throw out the ceremonial first pitch at its home games for the World Series, settling on members of the inaugural 2005 Nationals team Friday, a player from the team’s youth baseball academy in Game 4 on Saturday and chef José Andrés, a noted Trump critic, in Game 5.
“We felt there are many other candidates that should be considered before him,” Lerner said of Trump. “We just wanted to have the right people.”
Washington’s elite and influential have long enjoyed a special relationship with baseball. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor threw out a first pitch last month. Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh had to explain how he funded his season tickets before his confirmation. And others — justices and elected officials alike — have been spotted in the owners’ box behind home plate. It’s just a mile from the Capitol, but for three or so hours on a summer night, it can feel much farther.
“It’s a great thing to take your mind off Washington,” Fox News anchor Bret Baier said.
Even in a city where connections are everything, Game 3 tickets were not easy to come by. They sold on the secondary market for well into the four figures, and federal law prevents elected officials from accepting them as gifts.
“I work for the government,” said Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.). “Those tickets are a little too rich for me.”
Most of her congressional colleagues are part of the “transient crowd,” the group that can sometimes make people elsewhere forget that so many call the D.C. area home. The Nationals, Wexton said, are a reminder of that.
“Washington gets a bad rap, sometimes, around the country,” she said. “We have pride in our city. We feel strongly about our teams.”
Elected officials use the opportunity to reach across the aisle and place friendly wagers. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), for example, put up some barbecue and beer against the crab cakes and whiskey of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).
The District’s first World Series game in 86 years finally concluded and Washington — official and unofficial — streamed out of the ballpark as one giant red river.
Despite the final score, Friday brought the District a baseball game it won’t soon forget. Impeachment-related hearings were set for Saturday. The Sunday political shows had a busy lineup on tap. But for at least a couple of more days, there’s a bit more October baseball to be shared.
“The only thing that’s a little bit unfortunate about this World Series,” Fox’s Wallace said, “is that it will be over soon and we won’t have that to rally around.”
Ben Strauss, Adam Kilgore and Paul Kane contributed to this report.
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