WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals visited the White House on Monday afternoon, just five days after clinching a World Series title.
Things veered into the political occasionally, with President Trump bringing up impeachment proceedings while praising the Nationals.
“America fell in love with Nats baseball. They just fell in love with Nats baseball. That’s all they wanted to talk about. That and impeachment,” Trump said near the beginning of the ceremony, eliciting laughter. “I like Nats baseball much more.”
Several prominent players were not in attendance, though reasons were not given for most of the absences. Sean Doolittle, Anthony Rendon, Javy Guerra, Joe Ross, Wander Suero, Wilmer Difo, Michael A. Taylor, Victor Robles and Roenis Elías were not on the official attendance list, and catchers Raudy Read and Tres Barrera were also not there.
Doolittle, a former Virginia star, said over the weekend that he would not be attending the ceremony due to issues with Trump’s rhetoric and policies. Trump was booed by fans at Nationals Park during Game 5 of the World Series.
“There’s a lot of things, policies that I disagree with, but at the end of the day, it has more to do with the divisive rhetoric and the enabling of conspiracy theories and widening the divide in this country,” Doolittle told The Washington Post.
“At the end of the day, as much as I wanted to be there with my teammates and share that experience with my teammates, I can’t do it,” Doolittle continued. “I just can’t do it.”
The ceremony, though, appeared to have a friendly vibe. Catcher Kurt Suzuki wore a red “Make America Great Again” hat — “I didn’t know that was gonna happen,” Trump said — while beloved face of the franchise Ryan Zimmerman offered friendly words while presenting Trump with a team jersey.
“What an unbelievable honor to be here,” Zimmerman said. “ ... This is an incredible honor that I think all of us will never forget, and 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 the world.”
The crowd also chanted “four more years” during World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg’s turn at the microphone, though that may have been in reference to his status as a free agent. He opted out of his deal on Saturday to test the market, meaning this could been the team’s final appearance with one of its biggest stars.
Trump responded, “I’m going to consider that four more World Series wins.”
Starting pitcher Patrick Corbin also made a possible reference to the chant, saying, “I just want to say one thing about this team. We believed in one another and we’re good friends off the field. I’m glad I’m here for five more years.”
The ceremony began, of course, with a rendition of “Baby Shark” by the band (“That turned out to be a very, very powerful little tune,” Trump would later say of the team’s unofficial anthem) as a large crowd of Nationals fans gathered on the South Lawn.
“I have to say, this is a record,” Trump said of the crowd, after emerging with Nationals Manager Dave Martinez, General Manager Mike Rizzo and Zimmerman. “We’ve never had this many people on the front lawn of the White House. Just another record for the Nats.”
Trump reminded the attendees that Calvin Coolidge was the occupant of the White House the last time Washington’s team won the World Series, in 1924. He joked that Rizzo is now more famous than he is, before shifting to praise of the team’s manager.
“This man didn’t make any mistakes. He didn’t make any,” he said of Martinez. “I’ve looked at that trophy for a long time and admired it for many years.”
He then invited up outfielder Juan Soto, praising his hair along with later discussing second baseman Asdrúbal Cabrera’s hairstyle: “Look at this head of hair,” he said of Soto. “He’s got no hair problem, I want to tell you. Look at that hair, huh?”
“You bring the energy we need to win this thing. We love you all,” Soto then told the crowd.
“They’re more concerned with speaking than with playing,” Trump joked as he asked players to step up to the mic to say a few words.
Trump praised Strasburg’s World Series performance. In response, Strasburg said, “We’ve certainly come a long way Mr. President. You know, I think starting out 19-31 only makes this that much better. You know, we could have been like the other teams, we could have won over 100 games and it could have been smooth sailing all the way. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t easy. And we only had one choice, and that was stay in the fight, and we stuck together, we pulled for each other and man, what a way to celebrate finally finishing that fight.”
In passing the mic off to Rizzo, Trump added, “As soon as they lose the first two or three games, they’re not gonna be heroes any more, that’s the way life works, but that won’t happen to them.”
Calling this “a season that unified a region when the region needed unifying the most,” Rizzo said to the fans: “You guys got after it. Not a baseball town? Not even close. Huge baseball town. What a great fan base we had, the playoffs, the latter part of the season and the playoffs, you guys were electric. It was unbelievable.”
To his players, he said, “This is a special group of human beings right here. Great baseball players, yes, we know that, great skills, great players, they’ve had great accomplishments in their careers, but what a special group of character people we have.”
Martinez spoke last, saying he didn’t plan on making an address because he was hoarse. After holding a gleeful parade and rally on the Mall on Saturday, many of the Nationals attended Sunday night’s Capitals game, where they sang, caroused and otherwise enjoyed themselves during a raucous night of celebration. The team was often shown shirtless by TV cameras at the hockey game. “Apparently my boys don’t like wearing shirts anymore,” Martinez quipped, before turning serious.
“They often say adversity builds character. We’ve got some characters,” Martinez said. “ . . . And what I learned about these buys, 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 and to be a part of it.”
The Nationals exited to the band’s rendition of Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”