WASHINGTON – General manager Mike Rizzo drove his fancy sports car through the employee parking lot, past the security guard, then look a left-hand turn on Potomac Avenue in Southeast as he waved to fans across the street.
“Thank you! We love you,” one woman, wearing a red Nationals t-shirt, shouted as Rizzo and other players drove in the dark to begin an off-season of uncertainty.
On the other side of Potomac Avenue on Sunday night – in front of the Dock 79 high-rise apartment – was Beth Fitzpatrick, 66, a long-time Nationals fan from Falls Church, Va., who was wearing a red Nationals facemask, red Nats t-shirt and blue jeans.
A former worker with refugee resettlement efforts, Fitzpatrick had watched earlier as players such as Max Scherzer, Luis García, and Daniel Hudson had driven their vehicles past several dozen fans who had gathered with social distance and masks in mind to wave goodbye as the team finished their abbreviated season with a 15-5 thumping of the New York Mets.
It was as close as Fitzpatrick had been to the players since March, when she was able to take in Spring Training games in Florida before the pandemic shut down Major League Baseball and sports around the world.
“We have been to Spring Training the last two years. We go to as many games as we can,” said Fitzpatrick, who has been attending games since the first season at RFK Stadium in 2005. “Last season we went to everything, the watch parties, the games, we did it all, everything. We went to Spring Training this year; we were lucky to see Scherzer pitch, (Stephen) Strasburg pitch. Then everything fell apart” in March with the shutdown.
“We have been watching from home (on TV this year). Today was our last chance to come in person,” she added. “So we came in the third inning and have been watching through the fence.”
The Sunday night gathering made up a little bit for not being there for the home schedule.
“It was so sad,” said Fitzpatrick, who has shared a ticket plan for games with a friend. “You wanted to keep supporting them and let them know how exciting it was we won. It was deflating.”
“We watched all of the games at home. I have my Nats flag at home and the first (face) mask I got was this,” she said, pointing to her mouth. “It is just fun to be here. It is just nice to close out the season and see them through the first-base fence.”
Exactly a year ago, on Sept. 27, 2019, the Nationals won their sixth game in a row at home over Cleveland before nearly 28,000 fans. They won 93 games as more than 2.2 million saw the Nats play at home last year, then won Game 7 of the World Series in Houston.
The Nationals ended this year 26-34 – even the hapless Marlins are going to the playoffs while the defending champs will have to watch from home.
There will be a new world champion when Washington opens its season – hopefully with fans – next April.
Also on hand outside Nationals Park on Sunday night were Jill and Casey Moton, Nationals fans and recent empty-nesters who moved into the Navy Yard neighborhood recently from Maryland with hopes of watching several games in person. They planned to see 20 games in person this season.
“We found out in December we were moving down here,” said Jill Moton, who saw Aníbal Sánchez and Michael A. Taylor leave in their vehicles after the game.
Do they feel cheated they didn’t get that chance?
“A little bit, just like everything (else). It is one more thing on the COVID-19 list,” said Casey Moton, also wearing a mask. “We were looking forward to being close to the ballpark. We had bad luck with season tickets. We will have to wait for that next year.”
So will a bunch of other fans.