WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump mostly stuck to sports Monday while honoring the World Series champion Washington Nationals, who had a handful of players skip the White House visit.
Amid an impeachment inquiry on Capitol Hill and Washington feting its first Major League Baseball champion since 1924, Trump hugged Kurt Suzuki after the catcher put on a “Make America Great Again” hat. Trump received a No. 45 Nationals jersey from first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, applauding the team’s first title and calling it a “comeback story for the ages.”
“Everyone fell in love with Nats baseball,” Trump said during the half-hour ceremony on the South Lawn attended by thousands of fans. “That’s all they wanted to talk about — that and impeachment. I like Nats baseball more.”
Reliever Sean Doolittle, who along with his wife has worked with Syrian refugees and military veterans and supports gay rights, did not attend the event. Also among those not listed as attending were National League MVP finalist Anthony Rendon, outfielders Victor Robles and Michael A. Taylor, and pitchers Joe Ross, Javy Guerra and Wander Suero.
Principal owner Mark Lerner was the only member of the ownership group listed as attending.
Eighteen of the 25 players on Washington’s World Series roster decided to go, including World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg,who opted out of the final four years of his contract but could re-sign for a more lucrative deal. Fans chanted “Four more years! Four more years” at Strasburg.
The Nationals on Monday tendered qualifying offers to Strasburg and Rendon, another free agent.
Despite Suzuki trading in the Nationals’ curly “W’’ for Trump’s signature hat and Zimmerman thanking the president for keeping the country safe and continuing to make it the best on earth, the Nationals’ visit did not have as much political undertones as when the 2018 champion Boston Red Sox visited the White House. They did so without manager Alex Cora, who did not attend that ceremony after citing his frustration with the administration’s efforts to help his native Puerto Rico recover from a devastating hurricane.
Washington manager Dave Martinez, whose parents are Puerto Rican, was in attendance and made some brief remarks to the delight of fans and players. Trump called it a record crowd, saying, “We’ve never had this many people on the front lawn of the White House.” The White House estimated an attendance of 5,300.
The U.S. Marine Corps band played the team into the ceremony with “Baby Shark,” which became the Nationals’ unofficial theme song as they went from 17-31 in May to World Series champions.
“It’s miraculous what we did,” NL Championship Series MVP Howie Kendrick said. “We brought a title back.”
After Trump singled out Strasburg, Kendrick, pitcher Aníbal Sánchez and other playoff heroes, players exited with the World Series trophy to the strains of “We Are The Champions.”
The Nationals’ White House visit was the latest stop on their whirlwind victory tour around the nation’s capital after coming back from a 3-2 series deficit to beat the Houston Astros in Game 7 last week. The team paraded down Constitution Avenue on Saturday and celebrated at the Washington Capitals hockey game Sunday night.