Monday morning saw the historic Washington Navy Yards in the southeastern quarter of Washington, D.C. become the subject of one of those mass shootings which have become so ubiquitous in 21st-century America. At this writing, details are still evolving and the facts and figures are still changing. According to the Washington Post, shots were fired this morning circa 8:20 this morning at the Naval Sea Systems Command Headquarters building. There might be two shooters. At least 10 people were shot, with at least some fatalities in that number -- latest reports indicate that four victims have died and at least eight others are wounded (Update: Sadly, the number of dead was later confirmed to be 13.). As of 11:30 am, the Navy has reported (via CNN) that two shooters "are down."
The Washington Nationals share Southeast with the Navy Yard, Nationals Park sitting just a few blocks to the west a short distance from the Anacostia River -- the Metro stop to go to the ballpark is the Navy Yard station. Washington Post beat writer Adam Kilgore reached out to Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who said that employees were told to stay home. "Were not allowed to go to the ballpark," Johnson said. Right now, one of the Nationals' parking lots is being used as a place for family members to seek out their loved ones.
The Nationals are scheduled to play a home game against the Atlanta Braves this evening at 7:05. It's a key game in their dark-horse campaign to make up for an uneven and injury-wracked season by making a last-minute bid for one of the two National League wild cards. With the Nationals winning virtually every day and the Red and Pirates scheduled to battle each other six more times, including in the final series of the season, it's possible that if Washington keeps the pressure on they might watch one of the frontrunners plummet past them.
It's exciting, it's compelling, and right now it's totally irrelevant. Sometimes the real world comes right to sports' doorstep and the best sports can do is to step aside until such point as it can provide distraction, affirmation, and a sense of continuity in the aftermath of whatever has happened. Recently we saw former Mets manager Bobby Valentine get into a public scrap about whether the Mets did more for the New York City community than the Yankees following the horrific events of September 11, 2001. What Valentine missed what that whether he was correct or not was completely irrelevant, because there was no "wrong" amount of helping, no crown to be won for doing the right thing. At its best, sport is a way of fostering a sense of community. If the Mets and Yankees did anything in that regard, if they helped ease the pain of that day even slightly, then they justified their existence. That's all we can really ask for.
The Nationals are now, regrettably, in a similar place. Their pursuit of the postseason might have to wait a day or several days, until such time as the shooters are killed or brought to justice, the survivors evacuated, the area surrounding the ballpark and the Navy Yard scoured for evidence. When those concerns have been met, it will be fitting to think about baseball again, in the same way that it was fitting for baseball to go on through all the national crises of its modern era since the Civil War -- only World War I paused baseball, and even then only briefly. The game's continuance gave people the sense that life went on, even during wartime. We still have that need today, when from Newtown to Chicago to Afghanistan, there is so much needless death that has become a routine part of our daily lives.
There is as yet no confirmation of a postponement of the Braves-Nationals game, but it would not be unexpected. The game will resume in Washington, this season will go in the books and be forgotten, but the loss of the victims will be felt forever. If someday someone is again moved to argue about the role of the game or a team in this crisis, remember that -- it's easy to forget in what order these things go: people, families, community, nation... and then, somewhere down the rankings, teams, who only cry, "Play ball!" for the benefit of all those that precede them on that list.