Remember when baseball was referred to as the “national pastime”? Well, these days, hating is the national pastime. Look no further than President Donald Trump’s venture out to watch a World Series game last month. He encountered a tidal wave of boos and other unprintable jeering when he was introduced via the Jumbotron.
But then look what happened after the Washington Nationals won the Series and held a parade for adoring fans so big that I’m tempted to say they exceeded Trump’s Inauguration Day crowd. Actually, they didn’t. That was just fake news. But still, the Nats brought together the D.C. region like it hasn’t been together for a long time.
Unfortunately, the unity was temporary, to say the least. It lasted a weekend, right up until the Nationals accepted the offer from POTUS to visit the White House. When will anybody learn? An invitation to the White House is a certain invitation to trouble. First, the team’s individual athletes always need to decide whether to attend or to boycott because they don’t agree with the president enough to be in the same room with him. Some of those who stay away make their feelings known publicly, like relief pitcher Sean Doolittle, who even poured his out to the Washington Post:
“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,” he said. “At the end of the day, as much as I wanted to be with my teammates and share that experience with my teammates, I can’t do it. I just can’t do it.”


So Doolittle didn’t go, along with a few other members of the squad, which is probably a good thing because he didn’t really have time because he was handling all the social media invective aimed his way. But if there’s one thing about the internet, it’s that the vicious trolling comes from all sides. It’s kind of a rough balance, with an emphasis on “rough.”
Others decided to attend the South Lawn festivities. Catcher Kurt Suzuki even put on a “Make America Great” cap, and first baseman Ryan Zimmerman presented the Trumpster with a Nats jersey with his name on it, along with the number 45. Then, as team captain, he made a little speech: “This is an incredible honor that I think all of us will never forget,” said Zimmerman. “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.”
It was probably that last part that caused the social media skies to open up in a storm of abuse. I don’t want to say what kind of storm, but it rhymes with “hit.” Both Zimmerman and Suzuki were immensely popular with the fans. But that was before they were so badly singed by their contact with the world of politics. It’s called “hardball” for a reason. It should be called “beanball.”
Why bother with these White House visits? Any good feelings to celebrate a champion will certainly turn to hard feelings. Besides, the business side of sports means that whatever glory a winner feels will be momentary. At the same time the Nationals were celebrating their triumph with Trump at the White House (or not), management and the players’ agents were already in the process of ripping away key parts of the team. Cutthroat negotiations always carry that risk.
In addition, after years of practice, developing muscle memory and months painfully grinding through the regular season, the time for savoring the victory was fleeting. There is always next year. It’s the hope of losers and the terror for winners: What happens if they fall short next year?
Next year is also an election year, putting the White House team in jeopardy. Various sports are governed by rules. Not so for politics.

© 2019 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.


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