WASHINGTON — For once, the “four more years” chants at the White House had nothing to do with the president of the United States.
The crowd on the South Lawn on Monday was actually cheering for Stephen Strasburg, the World Series MVP pitcher for the Washington Nationals, who just opted out of the remaining four years on his contract after bringing home the title. The fans, no surprise, would like him signed up for another term.
More than 5,000 of them gathered at the White House to celebrate the first World Series championship in the nation’s capital in 95 years, a marriage of Washington’s two favorite pastimes, politics and baseball. The most unifying force in the city paid a visit on its most divisive force, and while President Trump was not booed in his own house, as he was when he visited Nationals Park last week, several players stayed away, most of them players of color, including the All-Star third baseman Anthony Rendon.
Mr. Trump, who prides himself on counterpunching, opted for grace on this occasion and made no mention of his rough reception or the no-shows. Instead, he lavished praise on a team that came from 12 games under .500 in the spring to win the city’s first baseball title since Calvin Coolidge occupied the mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue — perhaps seeing a little of his own improbable rise to Washington stardom in theirs.
“America fell in love with the Nats baseball, they just fell in love with Nats baseball,” Mr. Trump said as he was surrounded by players and coaches. “That’s all they wanted to talk about — that and impeachment.”
The players and the crowd erupted in laughter.
“I like Nats baseball much more,” Mr. Trump added.
In addition to Mr. Rendon, others who passed on the visit included Sean Doolittle, Michael A. Taylor, Victor Robles, Joe Ross, Wander Suero, Javy Guerra and Wilmer Difo. The owners were represented by Mark and Judy Lerner, but the rest of the family, including the patriarch, Ted Lerner, did not attend. Mr. Doolittle, a reliever, was the only one who publicly attributed his decision to skip the ceremony to antipathy for Mr. Trump.
Scott Boras, the agent for Mr. Rendon, said the player was not making a political statement. “He just had a family matter,” Mr. Boras said by telephone. “He had to get back to Texas and take care of things there and nothing other than that.”
Mr. Guerra told The Washington Post that he did not attend because he was preparing for his wedding on Saturday in Mexico.
Most of the biggest stars did come, including Mr. Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Juan Soto, Howie Kendrick, Ryan Zimmerman, Trea Turner, Adam Eaton and the fan-favorite Gerardo Parra, at least some of them out of a sense of solidarity with the team despite any personal discomfort. Also on hand were Dave Martinez, the manager, and Mike Rizzo, the general manager. The team declined to comment.
It was perhaps the only no-win situation the Nationals organization faced all year. Other sports teams and athletes have wrestled with how to respond to an invitation from the president given his racially inflammatory language and hard-edge immigration policies. But the Nationals are based just across town, and while the Lerners are known to support Democrats, they did not want to show disrespect or take sides in a city where the Nationals are the one institution that brings Republicans and Democrats together.
As it was, they were put in an awkward position when Mr. Trump showed up for Game 5 of the World Series at Nationals Park on Oct. 27, the first Major League Baseball game he has attended since taking office. The Nationals had already slotted José Andrés, the celebrity chef and vocal critic of the president, to throw the ceremonial first pitch. When Mr. Trump was introduced onscreen, he was roundly booed and many chanted, “Lock him up!”
Mr. Trump made no reference to that on Monday, and in fact he brought the team to the White House just five days after it took Game 7 in Houston against the Astros, far faster than it usually takes to arrange visits by championship squads.
Plenty of presidents have embraced a winner, but in this case Mr. Trump did so literally. When the catcher Kurt Suzuki slipped on a red “Make America Great Again” cap, the president wrapped his arms around the startled player from behind.
Mr. Suzuki was not the only Nat to go to bat for the embattled president. “We’d also like to thank you for keeping everyone here safe in our country,” Mr. Zimmerman, the Nationals’ first draft pick when the franchise moved to Washington in 2005, told Mr. Trump as he presented him with a team jersey. “And continuing to make America the greatest country to live in the world.”
In addressing the team and the crowd, the president offered a virtual play-by-play review of season highlights, even agreeing that a hotly contested interference ruling in Game 6 “was a terrible call,” perhaps the only thing he will say all week that all of Washington would agree with. The Marine Band, in addition to “Hail to the Chief,” played the Nationals’ unofficial anthem, “Baby Shark,” and the team’s presidential mascots — Abe, Teddy, George and Tom — danced nearby.
“You worked every count, hustled for every base, you fought for every run and produced a comeback story for the ages,” Mr. Trump told the players. “Never happened, like what happened with the Nats.”
As for the “four more years” chants, for once he did not take it as personal validation. “I’m going to consider that four more World Series wins, O.K.?”
The crowd agreed.
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