WASHINGTON - The final gathering happened on the South Portico of the White House in their adopted city.
An estimated crowd of 5,300 watched and cheered from the South Lawn. The U.S. Marine Corps band played Baby Shark. President Donald Trump recounted step by step the amazing journey that took the Nationals from a 19-31 record May 24 through a remarkable October playoff run and Washington's first World Series title in 95 years.
Spring training is only three months away. But the only thing certain is these Nationals will never be together in this way again. Ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg is a free agent. Most Valuable Player candidate Anthony Rendon is, too, and he skipped the White House ceremony to be with his family in his hometown of Houston, where the Nationals won the World Series last weekend over the Astros in an on-brand, come-from-behind Game 7 victory.
Seven of the 25 players who were on the 25-man World Series roster were absent. Including Rendon, Victor Robles, Michael A. Taylor, Joe Ross, Wander Suero and Javy Guerra didn't participate. Only relief pitcher Sean Doolittle explicitly told the Washington Post that his decision was a moral one. He simply doesn't share the same values as Trump.
Other Nationals players were not so reticent. Catcher Kurt Suzuki wore a red Make America Great Again hat and Trump hugged him from behind at the microphone. Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals' first draft pick in 2005 after moving from Montreal, presented Trump with a white No. 45 Nationals jersey and thanked him for keeping America safe.
In a city where Trump was lustily booed at Nationals Park during Game 5 of the World Series on Oct. 25, those actions will be disappointing to many fans. Others will see it as respect for the office and the invitation to the White House. Players are complicated people with their own nuanced political views. Some are Trump supporters while others loathe his policies. Some aren't political at all.
And some can put disagreements aside because they just want to see the White House. That was the reason so many Capitals players chose to go when invited to the White House by Trump last March for their 2018 Stanley Cup win.
That event was a low-key affair in the Oval Office with just pool reporters on hand to document it. The NHL's most diverse team with players from Denmark and Russia, the United States and Sweden, Canada and the Czech Republic, Australia and Germany, most of the European players, especially, saw it as a chance to see an iconic building. The politics were secondary. That might upset you. It's just reality. The men you see on your television every night have their own back stories and their own world views.
This White House celebration was a much bigger event than many in recent years with fans allowed onto the South Lawn behind ropes and hundreds of reporters documenting it. Twenty four players, eight coaches, manager Davey Martinez, general manager Mike Rizzo and principal owner Mark Lerner represented the Nationals.
The players flanked Trump on stairs at each end of the podium. Rizzo and Martinez stood next to the President and First Lady Melania Trump. Strasburg, Suzuki, Zimmerman, Juan Soto, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Howie Kendrick, Asdrubal Cabrera and Patrick Corbin all gave brief remarks. Some seemed stunned they were called up at all. Rizzo and Martinez made short remarks also
The Marine Corps Band played Baby Shark multiple times and Queen's We Are The Champions. Of course. Some Nats had hoarse voices. They were honored at the Capitals game Sunday night and stayed late to party with their fellow athletes and former champions. The crowd on the South Lawns chanted "Let's Go, Nats!" and "Four More Years!" – though the latter was for Strasburg, the free agent, and not Trump, the 2020 candidate.
As with the Capitals, no Nationals players, coaches or executives were made available to the media for questions afterward. These events have become so sensitive with teams not wanting to alienate fans on either side of the political spectrum. Rizzo thanked his team when called to the podium and also the Nats fans of all stripes who lent their support throughout the season and especially during a memorable October.
"We unified a region when the region needed unifying the most," Rizzo said before quoting Martinez, his manager. "Bumpy roads lead to beautiful places and this here is a beautiful place."
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Nationals visit the White House for one final World Series send-off originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington