The Nationals had made it known they would not raise their championship banner or hand out World Series rings in an empty ballpark. No fans? No formal celebration of the franchise’s first title.
“I think as far as raising the banner and the distribution of rings, we’re going to wait for our fan base to be involved to do those types of things,” general manager Mike Rizzo said last month during an interview with MLB Network Radio. “Those are once-in-a-lifetime things to do, and our fan base is such a big factor in helping us win that thing. They earned it. They deserve to be involved in it. And we’re going to wait for them to do it.”
So Tuesday night’s announcement that the Nationals will be holding a virtual ring ceremony Sunday night, with players and coaches receiving their rings in the mail and then opening them up for the first time in a televised Zoom chat, surely caught a lot of people off guard.
What happened to waiting for fans to be part of the celebration?
Well, it had become clear that would not be possible in 2020. If there’s one broader takeaway from this announcement, here it is: The Nats recognize any games played this year will be played without fans in attendance.
Nobody has publicly stated that. And as always, it’s impossible to predict what the state of the world will be five months from now when a potential 2020 World Series is taking place.
But given the daunting logistics that already have been spelled out just to hold Major League Baseball games in empty ballparks, it’s just really hard to see how fans will be able to be part of this season.
And so the Nats faced the following decision: Wait until they’ve got a home game in front of a sellout crowd to celebrate the 2019 championship (even if that doesn’t happen until 2021) or find a way to hold the celebration now?
They chose to do it now, and it’s hard to blame them for coming to that conclusion.
Yes, it would be much, much better to hold a ring ceremony in front of 42,000 live fans. But what if the Nationals aren’t defending champions anymore when that day comes? What if it coincides with the 2020 World Series champs handing out their rings in another city?
Plus, how many members of the 2019 roster are we absolutely sure will still be in D.C. in 2021? Ryan Zimmerman, Sean Doolittle, Kurt Suzuki, Howie Kendrick, Adam Eaton, Aníbal Sánchez and Asdrúbal Cabrera could all be gone by then. Anthony Rendon, Matt Adams, Gerardo Parra and Brian Dozier already are gone. That’s as many as 11 members of the 25-man World Series roster who aren’t guaranteed to be on the 2021 roster.
So this virtual ceremony was becoming something of a necessity.
The good news is that everyone can participate together (on computer screens, unfortunately), and all fans can watch live on MASN, MLB Network or nationals.com.
And the choice of dates for this ceremony gives it some extra meaning. On May 24, 2019, the Nationals began their long climb back from 19-31 to an unlikely championship. On May 24, 2020, they’ll don their rings for the first time. If you have to do it this way, this is a fitting way to do it.
It’s also fitting, in a weird way, that the Nationals would be forced to continue their victory tour in unusual fashion. They already found themselves in the awkward position of drawing less attention this spring than the team they beat in the World Series, which happened to share their complex in West Palm Beach and had just been penalized by MLB for illegally stealing signs during their 2017 championship run.
Then what should’ve been a glorious opening day and opening homestand for the defending champs was wiped out by the coronavirus. And common sense now says whatever baseball is played this year will be played with no fans in attendance.
This has turned into an unprecedented year for the sport and for the world at large. Might as well hand out championship rings in a completely unprecedented manner.