Nationals: 'We felt it was inappropriate to play'

Nationals: 'We felt it was inappropriate to play'
September 16, 2013, 12:00 pm
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Mike Rizzo explains Nats decision to cancel game

Updated at 5:13 p.m.

The Nationals have shared a close relationship with the Navy Yard ever since the two became neighbors in 2008. The ballpark Metro exit remains the “Navy Yard” station. Servicemen and servicewomen from the yard regularly attend games at Nationals Park and are recognized on the scoreboard. When the Nationals record the final out of a victory, a klaxon (submarine horn) acquired from the Navy Yard is sounded over the stadium loudspeakers.

So when tragedy struck their neighbors Monday morning, resulting in the deaths of at least 13 people, the Nationals quickly realized they wouldn’t be playing baseball later in the evening. It took several hours to coordinate with authorities and Major League Baseball, but by 3 p.m., the club announced its series opener with the Braves was being postponed, made up on Tuesday as part of a day-night doubleheader.

“It’s a very emotional day,” general manager Mike Rizzo said outside the Nationals clubhouse shortly after the postponement was announced. “An extremely horrific act happened very near to the ballpark. Our neighbors at the Navy Yard, our thoughts and prayers go out to all the victims over there and to all the people affected by this. We felt it was inappropriate to play a Major League Baseball game with such tragedy right down the street.”

Ultimately, the decision came down to fan safety. With an ongoing investigation and search for at least one more potential gunman and with a large swath directly to the east of Nationals Park still in lockdown, the notion of inviting 20,000-30,000 baseball fans to the area was untenable.

There were other logistical issues as well, most notably the use of one of the ballpark’s garages as a staging area for family members trying to reconnect loved ones who work at the Navy Yard.

“We were thrilled to be able to help,” team spokesman John Dever said. “For us to do our part, it was easy.”

The shooting, which D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said resulted in at least 13 confirmed deaths, took place at 8:20 a.m. inside the Navy Yard complex, which sits three blocks east of Nationals Park. Though it immediately seemed unlikely the Nationals’ game would take place, players and coaches from both clubs were told shortly after lunchtime they were allowed to enter the ballpark, so many proceeded as though they would be playing as scheduled.

"We got on the bus at 1:30 and we were all still wondering: Why are we getting on the bus?" Atlanta reliever Scott Downs told reporters. "Baseball, I think, was the last thing on everybody's mind. Once they heard the tragedy that went on and the extent, and heard there was still somebody out there, they don't know. So I think that's the last thing anybody wanted to do was come to the ball field."

Throughout the morning and afternoon, the Nationals were hashing out details with club security, the federal government, local police and MLB, a complicating process that prevented an official postponement announcement from being released until 3 p.m.

“Because of the [logistics] that go into this, and the immense coordination that it takes to make these decisions with the federal, state and local authorities, it just makes it a timely process,” Rizzo said.

Nationals Park was open all day and some team employees made it to work Monday morning, though others had trouble accessing the area, especially those arriving from the north and east. Extra security measures were put into place at the ballpark to ensure only team employees and credentialed media were allowed in.

A handful of players emerged onto the field to play catch or work out. Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg, who was scratched from his last start due to forearm tightness, threw off a bullpen mound as planned, putting him in line to start Thursday night against the Marlins.

Throughout it all, the American flag beyond the left-field fence flew at half-staff and police sirens regularly pierced the otherwise silent scene.

“It makes our game seem so unimportant when stuff like this happens,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez told reporters. “It’s the right call, doing what we’re doing. You don’t want 40,000 people or so coming in here, for their safety. Who knows what’s going on? It’s the right call, and also out of respect for the people who lost their lives and their families.”

The postponed game will be made up as part of a day-night doubleheader on Tuesday. Dan Haren will face Mike Minor in the 1:05 p.m. opener, with Tanner Roark pitching against Freddy Garcia in the 7:05 p.m. nightcap.

The Nationals haven’t yet announced a ticket exchange policy, but fans holding tickets to Monday’s postponed game should be able to use them for admission to Tuesday afternoon’s game. A separate ticket will be required for the regularly scheduled nightcap.