Johnson on returning to baseball after tragedy: “It keeps us sane”

The Nationals will get back to work today, playing two crucial games against the Braves in a split doubleheader, but they’ll do so with yesterday’s tragic shooting at the nearby Washington Navy Yard still on their minds.

The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral James A. Winnefeld Jr., came through the Nationals clubhouse this morning, passing out U.S. Navy caps to players and thanking team staffers for opening Parking Lot B to allow for family members affected by the shooting to reunite.

Detwiler_Stammen-Navy-hats.jpgPlayers donned the hats (modeled at right by Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen) during their on-field throwing sessions and stretches.

After initially being told to stay away from Nats Park as word of the shooting was first starting to spread, manager Davey Johnson got to the park a little after 1 p.m. yesterday afternoon. He was greeted by an armed guard near the parking lot reserved for Nationals players and coaches and showed his driver’s license to try and get in, but was told he needed some type of Nationals ID in order to get into that area.

“I kind of knew then that there was no way we were going to play this game with all that going on over there,” Johnson said. “And then the families using our parking lot. No chance.”

Despite the minor inconvenience from a baseball standpoint that comes with having to play a doubleheader during a playoff chance, Johnson said he was completely on board with the decision to postpone last night’s game and play two today.

“Yeah, it was the correct decision,” Johnson said. “You never like to play two in one day, but it is what it is. These splits ... but I’m usually here all day anyway, so it doesn’t matter.”

It seems like sports, and baseball games specifically, often can allow grieving communities to get back to some sense of normalcy after tragic events. We saw it at Yankee Stadium and Shea Stadium in New York after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. We saw it at Fenway Park in Boston after the Boston Marathon bombings earlier this year. And we’ll see it at Nats Park in D.C. today, where the flags are flying at half-staff on the concourse in left field.

“I really feel that way,” Johnson said. “I think sports here in America gets you to quit thinking about your problems and problems in the world. Look at some highly talented young athletes compete. It keeps us sane.”

Especially because Nats Park is so close to the Navy Yard - just five blocks away - today’s games will allow those who live or work in this area a chance to come together with family members, friends and co-workers and think about something other than yesterday’s tragic events.

“I’ve been all over the naval base, and we’re neighbors,” Johnson said. “It’s just hard to believe, but that’s this day and time. It’s hard to believe stuff like that goes on. It’s just tough.”

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