It happened a split second after Kyle Finnegan struck out Wil Myers to end the top of the sixth. As the Nationals started to make their way off the field at the conclusion of a frustrating half-inning that saw their 5-4 deficit to the Padres balloon into an 8-4 deficit, the shots could clearly be heard.
There were maybe five or six of them in rapid succession, emanating from our left as we looked down from the press box high above Nationals Park. We looked at each other, asked “Did you hear that?” and “Were those gunshots?” and then looked back toward the third base stands to see if anyone down there was reacting to it.
At first, there appeared to be no reaction from the large Saturday night crowd. Then, after maybe 30 seconds or so, we saw fans running along the main concourse, from the left field corner toward the center field gate. At the same time, umpires were clearing the field.
Now it was clear. Yes, those were indeed gunshots. Though it was not yet clear if they originated inside or outside the stadium.
Word, though, quickly circulated throughout the ballpark. And when fans in the lower deck on the first base side - the complete opposite side of the facility from where the initial gunshots could be heard - began scrambling, taking cover, even running onto the field and into the Nationals’ dugout, that’s when there was a legitimate moment of fear.
Was it possible there was a shooter inside the park, on the loose? Was it possible there were others, and that this was some kind of coordinated attack meant to take place during the game?
That’s when some of us in the press box decided to duck under the desktop and lay low. Just in case.
Thankfully, within a minute or so, Jerome Hruska’s voice came over the speakers and the ballpark’s longtime public address announcer informed fans to remain inside the stadium, not to go onto the field and explained that an incident had taken place outside Nationals Park.
And eventually, Hruska’s message changed, now informing fans it was safe to leave the ballpark, but only through the center field and right field gates.
Some stayed in their seats for quite a while, perhaps waiting to be sure the game was not going to be continued, perhaps still feeling safer inside than outside the park.
As we would come to learn later in the night from the D.C. Police Department, three people in total sustained gunshot wounds, thankfully none of them appearing to be life-threatening. Two people arrived at the hospital on their own and were subsequently taken into custody. Sadly, a woman who had attended the game was found wounded outside the stadium, possibly an unintended victim of an incident that appeared to have been a drive-by shooting on South Capitol Street, not at all related to the game itself.
We would also learn of the selfless acts of countless people, from the police who responded to the shooting, to fans who took care of friends and strangers alike to Padres players and Nationals staffers who welcomed people who shouldn’t normally be allowed in the dugout or even up the clubhouse stairs in for a few harrowing moments when nothing was certain.
And eventually we would learn how the baseball itself would proceed. Though this would have been considered an official game, with the Padres leading by four runs in the middle of the sixth inning, had it been halted by bad weather, in this case the game was suspended. Thus it will be picked up from the moment it was stopped today at 1:05 p.m. and completed through nine innings.
Then, 25 to 45 minutes after that, the two teams will play their originally scheduled series finale, also the full nine innings.
The outcomes of the games are significant for both clubs, one of which currently holds one of the National League’s five postseason berths, one of which is desperately trying to claw its way back into the mix for one of those spots.
But given what happened Saturday night, and the manner in which the game was abruptly halted due to a situation nobody would ever wish to experience at a ballpark, you’ll forgive anyone who chooses not to place too much emphasis on the outcomes of these sporting events.