Events like those that transpired at the Navy Yard yesterday seem to plague our country with disturbing frequency. It is unfortunate that they happen at all, or that they happen in any neighborhood or any work place. But they came home yesterday to the Navy Yard, part of the neighborhood around Nationals Park. The most exciting thing happening Monday should have been the Braves series about to begin, but unspeakable tragedy intervened.
The Navy Yard begins just across 1st Street from Nationals Park. Very few of the many people who have been coming with increasing frequency to the ballpark area know much about the Yard or its history as the oldest naval facility in the country. But the people who work there come and go from the same Metro Station as Nationals fans and are getting on the train as the first folks heading to the park disembark. We cross paths, but do not engage. That changed yesterday.
The sellout atmosphere of the playoffs last year brought large and celebratory crowds to the ballpark area. Fans branched out beyond their normal area of comfort. I remember using a parking lot well down M Street past the beautiful new Transportation building and directly across from the Sixth Street Gate for the Navy Yard. Just a few more blocks and we were at Eastern Market at the Rusty Nail. Who knew as we tried not to forget Jayson Werth’s game-winning home run that building 197 was right across the street from the parking lot? Who knew that dozens, perhaps hundreds, of rounds of ammo would be emptied into the corridors of that building and that 13 people would die?
Whenever the Nationals make the playoffs again, whether it is this year or the next, we will be in that same excited mood, making our way down M Street again. We should be thinking about nothing more consequential than the ultimate experience baseball has to offer. But it will be hard not to remember when we walk past the Navy Yard and the buildings behind the gate. It will be difficult not to have a certain sadness and somberness seep into the gameday atmosphere because the people who died yesterday were our neighbors and friends.
The senseless violence at the Navy Yard will change the way we see our baseball neighborhood for many years to come, but it should not dampen our enthusiasm for a neighborhood where we are just beginning to settle in, that we are just beginning to call home.
When Bob Short bought the Washington Senators in 1969, he took up the cry that Washington was a crime-wracked city where fans were afraid to come downtown for games. He beat that drum with the rest of baseball’s brain rust until the skids were greased to carry baseball away from D.C. for three decades.
Thirteen people died yesterday just down the street from Nationals Park. We should never forget that, but it is a horror that could have happened anywhere. The kind of random violence that struck the Navy Yard knows no boundaries, has no predictive quality and our fear of it cannot be grounded in any one place.
Hopefully no one will see those events as grounds for staying away from baseball in D.C. There is no more reason to stay away from Nationals Park than to avoid any number of scenes where random violence has struck, be it a movie theatre or an elementary school.
I know Nats fans will extend thoughts and prayers to those Navy personnel and civilians who lost a friend or family member yesterday. I am certain that there will be a moment of silence for them at the game today. It should be a somber time when we forget about the playoffs, about the Atlanta Braves and anything except people who could have lived next door, could have passed us on the way up the escalator on our way to the game. They were our neighbors and we should keep them in our thoughts and keep their families in our prayers.
Ted Leavengood is author of “Clark Griffith, The Old Fox of Washington Baseball,” released in June 2011. He serves as managing editor of the popular Seamheads.com national baseball blog and co-hosts with Chip Greene the “Outta the Parkway” Internet radio show. His work appears here as part of MASNsports.com’s effort to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of the Internet. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.