The Cup first made its way into the bowels of Nationals Park shortly before 11 a.m., safely stored inside its personalized black trunk. By the time its full tour of the ballpark was complete, it had been unveiled, polished, stood in the Nats’ clubhouse, the press conference room, been carried around the infield by Alex Ovechkin and then watched this afternoon’s game against the Giants from a suite down the left field line.
Everywhere it went, it was followed. And photographed. Selfies. Videos. Grainy photos from hundreds of feet away. Everybody who got even a glimpse of the Stanley Cup simply had to capture the moment for posterity.
And why not? There hasn’t been a major championship trophy in Washington in 26 years. This was a once-in-a-lifetime event for everyone who happened to be on South Capitol Street today for Game 62 of the Nationals’ season.
Er, once-in-a-lifetime for most.
“This is my third picture with the Cup,” Adam Eaton pointed out. “I was in Chicago. In fact, I take full responsibility. The Cup follows me. It makes sense. It’s science. I mean, it’s facts, right? You’re welcome, everybody.”
OK, so Eaton (who played for the White Sox when the Blackhawks won two of their three recent titles) is a veteran of these things. Just about everyone else today was treated to a special moment, one they won’t soon forget.
Still only 36 hours removed from their first hoisting of the Cup in Las Vegas, the Capitals made their first official D.C. visit with the trophy at Nationals Park, where a near-sellout crowd and a clubhouse full of excited players and staff awaited.
The Caps bus pulled up at 11:22 a.m. - it was supposed to arrive at 11 a.m., but come on, you know what D.C. weekend traffic is like - and players and coaches emerged wearing Nationals T-shirts. Outside the entrance to the clubhouse, owners Ted Leonsis and Ted Lerner posed for photos with the Cup, the former having seen his franchise win its first championship, the latter still hoping his has its moment soon.
Then came the clubhouse visit, which included the first face-to-face meeting between manager Davey Martinez and head coach Barry Trotz. The two have been texting each other for the last couple months, but Martinez wanted to wait until the Caps’ playoff run was complete before meeting in person.
“We’ve texted each other, but I’m very excited to meet him,” the skipper said pregame. “Actually, really excited. Another reason why I couldn’t sleep. I’d like to sit down and pick his brain one-on-one. So hopefully we get to do that today.”
“We want them to have the same positive vibe,” Trotz said afterward. “It’s so important for a team to have that sort of love-coming-to-work attitude, which our guys did and we did some pretty special things. ... Just let them know there’s no curse or anything. They’re all gone. We’ve checked all the boxes and wanted to give them a real positive vibe, not only to the Nats, but all the sports teams in this area.”
Players from both teams mingled and took a joint photo inside the clubhouse, the trophy standing right in the center of the curly W logo on the carpet. Ovechkin and Ryan Zimmerman, who both debuted in the fall of 2005 and now are the two longest-tenured athletes in the city, lay on the floor with arms wrapped around each other, beaming from ear to ear.
Then it was time for the masses to see the thing. At 11:43 a.m., a video tribute played on the scoreboard and the fans began to roar. And then Ovechkin emerged from the first base dugout holding the Cup, walked to the mound and set it down on a stand covered by a black NHL tablecloth.
With the entire team standing behind him, Ovechkin stepped up to the rubber at 11:47 a.m., ball in hand, and motioned to Max Scherzer, who crouched behind the plate to receive the ceremonial first pitch. Ovechkin, who despite his wicked right-handed slapshot actually throws left-handed, heaved the ball over Scherzer’s head, even over Screech’s head as the crowd groaned.
“Too excited, too strong,” Ovechkin said. “I try to do my best.”
Scherzer, though, afforded the hockey star a mulligan. Ovechkin re-took his position on the mound and then lobbed an acceptable pitch to the three-time Cy Young Award winner.
Then “The Great 8” hoisted the Cup again and held it over his head, making his way into foul territory along the third base line - the Giants’ Evan Longoria, who was playing catch, threw his hands into the air in frustration, not that he had any say in the matter - and then moving the party behind the plate, around to the first base side and then back down the dugout tunnel.
The Capitals watched the game from a party suite down the left field line, players randomly holding the Cup up for fans in the vicinity to see. Many beverages were consumed. They cheered as the Nationals took a quick 5-0 lead. They cheered as Bryce Harper launched his league-leading 19th home run of the season.
At some point, their fuel tanks are going to hit empty, right?
“The Russian Machine never breaks,” Nicholas Backstrom insisted.
“He’s breaking,” John Carlson replied.
And then the king of Washington admitted something no one ever thought possible.
“I’m breaking right now,” Ovechkin said.
Looks like this is a new era in D.C. after all.