Braves saddened to learn of shootings in DC
Club's game against Nationals on Monday cancelled; twin bill set for Tuesday
WASHINGTON -- As Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was drinking coffee at the team's hotel early Monday morning, he heard the earliest reports about a gunman at Washington's Navy Yard. A little more than three hours later, he gained a better understanding of the severity of this tragedy that occurred just a few blocks away from Nationals Park.
Police barricades prevented the cab carrying Gonzalez, bullpen coach Eddie Perez and strength and conditioning coach Phil Falco from getting within five blocks of the ballpark. As the Braves coaches walked the remainder of their journey, they encountered a heavy police presence, heard helicopters flying overhead and saw parents holding their children while dealing with the fear that had gripped their neighborhood.
"You wouldn't know you're in the United States," Gonzalez said as he stood a little more than a mile from the U.S. Capitol building. "Stuff like this shouldn't happen in the United States. It's crazy."
This was supposed to be a special week for baseball in D.C. The Braves have a chance to clinch the National League East at their division rival's home, and the red-hot Nationals have positioned themselves to complete what would be a miraculous run to the postseason by earning a Wild Card berth.
But none of this seemed to matter as players from both teams learned that at least one gunman had killed at least 12 individuals just a few blocks away. Most of the Braves boarded a bus from their team hotel around 1:30 p.m. ET and arrived at the ballpark with the feeling that Monday's game would eventually be postponed.
This became official approximately 90 minutes later, when the Nationals announced Monday's game would be made up as part of a split doubleheader on Tuesday. The games will start at 1:05 p.m. and 7:05.
"There's a lot of guys that didn't want to play," Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said. "We thought it was kind of disrespectful to play. That is right across the street. To be able to hear cheering and they're supposedly using one of the parking lots for families. Stuff like that, [the ballpark] just should be quiet for today."
"Nobody is thinking about baseball," Braves reliever Scott Downs said. "Baseball is a game. You look at the real-life perspective when things go on. That's the last thing I want to do or any team wants to do, especially when something is going on five minutes down the road."
If the Braves sweep the twin bill or earn two wins at any point during this three-game set, they will clinch the NL East and further strengthen their bid to gain home-field advantage leading up to the World Series by securing the NL's best record.
But given what occurred Monday, the excitement surrounding the doubleheader will likely be tempered.
"Even when the game is going on, it's going to be in everybody's head," Downs said. "But you have to in the best way possible kind of block everything out and take care of the business at hand. Luckily for us, it's playing a baseball game."
Downs and some of the other Atlanta pitchers played catch while many of the Braves hitters took swings in the indoor batting cage on Monday. Gonzalez said he did not think it would have been right to allow his players to take batting practice on the field.
"The right thing to do is take a day and respect the day and then go back to business," Gonzalez said. "I think the sooner you get back to normal situations, not only for us, but for the community, I think the better off you will be. But I think you have to take a little time and respect what is going on around you."
There might at least be some sense of normalcy on Tuesday. Jason Heyward will once again take batting practice with his teammates as he attempts to move closer to returning from his fractured jaw. Johnson will continue his pursuit of a batting title and both the Braves and Nationals will continue to fight for a postseason berth.
But the feeling within the ballpark will not be the same as it would have been before tragedy struck this neighborhood.
"It's just a game," Johnson said. "This is way more important than baseball, clinching a division, home-field advantage and all that kind of stuff. People lost their lives and their families. We'll just dedicate this day to them."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.