The worst thing is that we knew it was coming. As we held our breath through the eight innings of the Wild Card game, confronted the possibility of another first round loss to the Dodgers, dominated the Cardinals and rode Stephen Strasburg’s filthy changeup to game 7 and then spent a week celebrating the team at a parade and a hockey game, the specter was there. The Nationals would be invited to the White House.
It is not hyperbole to say that we fell in love with this team. The intensity of Max Scherzer, the youthful joy of Juan Soto and Victor Robles, the ebullience and warmth of Gerardo Parra and Anibal Sanchez, the quiet professionalism of Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon, and the goofiness of Sean Doolittle all combined to make this one of the most fun baseball teams we have seen in a long time.
That joy and unity was captured in a 15-second video made early in the season in which Brian Dozier of Fulton, Miss., sang along in perfect Spanish to the reggaeton hit “Calma.” Through the Nationals 15th annual Night Out for Pride, the oldest in MLB, LGBTQ fans felt the inclusion that the team seemed to embrace as its modus operandi. The lack of known perpetrators of domestic violence on the team also served as a reminder that the 2019 Washington Nationals were a team that everyone could love.
Then the invite came and the Nationals eagerly accepted it. Championship teams going to the White House is a long tradition. However, in the era of Donald Trump, many traditions have been upended. Teams have refused to go to the White House. The administration has disinvited others. Some, like the 2019 WNBA Champion Mystics, have not even been invited.
What would the Nationals do? It seemed fairly obvious that many Nationals would go and be quiet and respectful and enjoy a moment to celebrate their victory. It also seemed obvious that an outspoken guy like Sean Doolittle would decline to go. What nobody expected was that catcher Kurt Suzuki would don a “Make America Great Again” hat and receive the world’s weirdest hug from Trump. At that moment, as Davey Martinez and Mike Rizzo laughed along, it felt like the ideals of inclusion and unity fell to the wayside and the ugliness represented by those four words had intruded into our joyous season.
Suzuki’s decision to wear the MAGA hat was a political decision. It aligned him, and by extension the team, with the president and his policies, which are the exact opposite of inclusion and unity. This is not about Republican versus Democrat. It is about the norms of political life and the wrecking ball to those norms that this administration represents. This administration has sought to define America narrowly. From the administration’s attacks on immigrants to its assault on the progress made for LGBTQ Americans, the administration has stood on the opposite end of the inclusive illusion we all bought into with the Nationals.
Many of us loved the Nationals because we believed they loved each other and loved all of us — immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ folks. We thought the team bellowing Calma in Spanish or a wildly successful Pride night meant that we were all in this together. Standing side-by-side with a president who has done everything he can to divide America into a straight, white and Christian us versus a pluralistic them suggests that our image of the team was as elusive as the beautiful changeup Strasburg throws.
Ava Benach works as an immigration lawyer and is the founder and coach of DC Girls Baseball.