One by one, they walked out, players and coaches filling the steps on both sides of the South Portico, where they were greeted by a crowd of several thousand that included team employees, administration employees and fans with connections who were given the opportunity to fill out the South Lawn and watch as the Nationals wrapped up their three-day World Series victory celebration with a White House visit.
These events, offered to most professional and major college teams that win championships, typically are smaller affairs with fewer in attendance. But not in 95 years had a Major League Baseball team from Washington won the World Series, and just as so many others in town have done over the last five days since the Game 7 victory in Houston, the White House wanted to turn this into an atypical celebratory event.
“For the first time in nearly 100 years, our nation’s capital is celebrating a World Series victory,” President Donald Trump said to open the roughly 30-minute ceremony. “That’s big stuff. Last time Washington, D.C., was home to the World Series champs, the president was named Calvin Coolidge. That’s a long time ago. Nearly a century later, the Nationals have brought back the trophy to America’s capital, and you’ve won it.”
Standing closest to Trump were general manager Mike Rizzo - “I think he’s much more famous than me right now,” the president said - along with manager Davey Martinez and longest-tenured player Ryan Zimmerman, who would present Trump with a personalized white Nationals jersey later in the ceremony.
In attendance but not appearing on the stage or speaking was managing principal owner Mark Lerner, the only member of the ownership family officially on the list of attendees. (“Great people, the Lerner family,” Trump said, also mentioning founding principal owner Ted Lerner by name.)
In all, 31 players and coaches were in attendance, with nine prominent players called to the microphone by the president along the way: Kurt Suzuki, Max Scherzer, Juan Soto, Howie Kendrick, Aníbal Sánchez, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Asdrúbal Cabrera and Zimmerman.
There were a number of players who chose not to attend, including seven from the 25-man World Series roster: Anthony Rendon, Victor Robles, Joe Ross, Sean Doolittle, Wander Suero, Javy Guerra and Michael A. Taylor. First base coach Tim Bogar also did not attend. The Nationals did not provide reasons for their absences; some may have already left D.C. to return to their hometowns. Doolittle did tell The Washington Post over the weekend he was skipping the event due to Trump’s “divisive rhetoric and the enabling of conspiracy theories and widening the divide in this country.”
Of those who did attend and spoke at the microphone, only two (Suzuki and Zimmerman) expressed something resembling a political opinion. After praising him for his go-ahead homer in Game 2 of the World Series, Trump invited Suzuki to come over and speak. The 36-year-old catcher then donned a red “Make America Great Again” cap and declared: “I love you all. I love you all. Thank you.”
Zimmerman, the organization’s first draft pick in 2005 and unofficial team captain, presented the president with a custom jersey that included the name “Trump” and the number 45 on the back.
“What an unbelievable honor to be here, to be in front of you guys,” Zimmerman said. “This is something you dream about. To see all the fans show up at the parade, look at this crowd here. We couldn’t have done it without you. So thank you guys so much. Mr. President: Me and my teammates, first of all, I’d like to thank you for having all of us here. This is an incredible honor that I think all of us will never forget. We’d also like to thank you for keeping everyone here safe in our country, and continuing to make America the greatest country to live in (in) the world.”
Trump mostly stuck to praising the Nationals for their historic turnaround from a 19-31 start to reach the postseason, then going 12-5 in October while winning five elimination games, coming from behind in each case. The president did slip in one reference to current political events.
“Throughout this season, the Nationals captured the hearts of baseball fans across the region and across the country,” Trump said. “America fell in love with the Nats baseball. They just fell in love with Nats baseball. That’s all they wanted to talk about. That, and impeachment. I like Nats baseball much better.”
There were lighter moments sprinkled throughout the ceremony. Trump referenced the “Baby Shark” phenomenon that swept over Nationals Park after journeyman outfielder Gerardo Parra started using his 2-year-old daughter’s favorite tune as his walk-up song, and the United States Marine Corps Band played it as players and attendees alike began making the shark chomp motion with their hands.
The president gushed over Soto and Cabrera’s hair, joked how close Sánchez came to completing a no-hitter in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series - “That would’ve been nice” - and joked that Rizzo might be fined for complaining about the controversial runner’s interference call on Trea Turner in Game 6 of the World Series.
“They can’t fine me,” Trump said. “I thought it was a terrible call.”
Moments earlier, the crowd chanted “Four more years!” after Strasburg (who just opted out of his contract to become a free agent) spoke.
“I’m going to consider that four more World Series wins,” the president said. “That would be very exciting.”
Rizzo and Martinez were last to address the crowd, and each used his time to try to capture the spirit of the team’s achievement and the celebrations that have followed.
“We’re honored to be here and in the long tradition of honoring champions at the White House,” Rizzo said. “It is a particular honor because Washington, D.C., not only is the nation’s capital and the most powerful city in the world, it’s our hometown. ...
“They put together a tremendous run at the end of the season. Through their perseverance, their teamwork, their love for each other and love for the game, love for the name on the front of the jersey more so than the name on the back of the jersey, they put together a miracle season and an unforgettable postseason. We’re proud to say that we are the 2019 world champion after a season that unified a region when the region needed unifying the most.”
Martinez, noting he would be brief because of a sore throat, wrapped things up with one more bit of praise for his players that left the second-year manager choking up.
“They say that adversity builds character,” Martinez said. “We’ve got some characters. We’ve got some characters at heart. But what I learned about these boys: They had one heartbeat, all year long. They went 1-0 all year long. And I’m so proud of this group of guys and what it means to this city to be a part of it. Thank you.”
You can watch video from C-Span of the entire White House visit by clicking here.