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How night at Washington Nationals ballpark turns into ‘just a nightmare’

The sound of gunfire leads to a harrowing scene Saturday as fans run for cover and players assist in getting them to safety.
Fans rush to evacuate after hearing gunfire during Saturday night's Padres-Nationals game in Washington. Fans did not know if the shots came from inside or outside the ballpark.
Fans rush to evacuate after hearing gunfire during Saturday night's Padres-Nationals game in Washington. Fans did not know if the shots came from inside or outside the ballpark. [ JOHN MCDONNELL | AP ]
Published Jul. 18
Updated Jul. 19

When the gunshots started to echo all around Nationals Park, Padres star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. quickly thought about the team’s family members and friends in the seats.

Tatis bolted from the bench down the leftfield line Saturday night, helped open a gate to the stands and began ushering a group back to the dugout to shelter.

“Our family, loved ones, little kids. Feel like somebody needed to go get them,” Tatis said Sunday. “I feel like the safest place was the clubhouse, and we were trying to get our families into a safe place.”

The top half of the sixth inning in the game between San Diego and Washington had just ended in front of about 33,000 fans when several shots were heard from an incident that occurred on South Capitol Street, just outside the third-base side of the stadium.

But in the moment, no one knew whether the rapid series of shots was coming from inside the ballpark or beyond.

“It doesn’t make the situation better, but someone shooting a firearm in the stadium would have been a completely different situation,” longtime Nationals star Ryan Zimmerman said.

Padres manager Jayce Tingler was on his way to see plate umpire Jordan Baker about a pitching change in a game San Diego led 8-4 and was suspended at that point.

“He’s like, ‘Did you hear that?’ ’' Tingler recalled Baker saying. “I’m like, ‘Yeah, I think so,’ and it kind of registered what it possibly could have been, and obviously it was just a nightmare.”

A chaotic scene quickly developed. As the Padres cleared the field, some fans rushed to leave the stadium while others ducked and tried to hide, looking for cover.

“Everybody running. It was crazy. You couldn’t figure out what was going on. If it was one or two people,” Tatis said. “I was just trying to get to the safest place and get our families.”

Tatis and teammates Manny Machado and Wil Myers drew praise for helping guide — and even carry — fans out of harm’s way.

“The situation changed immediately,” Tatis said. “There’s no longer players, fans. I feel like everybody’s just people, human beings trying to be secure.”

Players did not stop fans from coming through the open gate and filling the dugout. In a matter of minutes, as players and family members huddled in the hallway leading to the clubhouse, the visitors’ dugout was full of dozens of fans.

As this was happening, Padres and Nationals relief pitchers were stuck in the bullpens beyond the outfield wall for a good five minutes, until it was determined it was safe for them to head to the clubhouse.

That was a long five minutes for Padres reliever Emilio Pagan.

“All I was thinking of was, ‘Were my wife and daughters safe?’ " he said Sunday. “They were on the concourse. I was scared. I was real scared.”

He sprinted in and found them, his daughters crying and his wife “shook.”

What many in the Padres traveling party were thinking about Sunday was not whatever danger they were actually in the previous night. It was what they thought might be happening and what their children, especially, had to process.

It was of little consequence to Pagan’s daughters, who are 4 and 9 months old, that what had happened was an exchange of gunfire between people in two vehicles on the street that runs along the third-base side of the ballpark.

Their fear was a product of the fear and chaos they saw around them. No one slept well in the Pagans’ hotel room Saturday night.

“Nightmare,” Pagan said. “Just a nightmare. Stupid. Just stupid.”

It was too late by then to shrug and say they had been safe all along.

But that’s what they had to do Sunday. In a way, Major League Baseball players are among the best at doing so. They spend eight months each year focusing one day at a time. “It’s a new day,” said Myers, the ex-Ray. “Things happen. You move on.”

He spoke of the events the way he speaks of at-bats and games.

“You make adjustments and you move on,” he said.

The halted game was completed Sunday, with the Padres finishing off a 10-4 win. The teams then played their regularly scheduled game.

The shooting, an exchange of gunfire between people in two cars, left three people injured, according to Ashan Benedict, the Metropolitan Police Department’s executive assistant police chief.

A woman who had attended the game was waiting for an Uber outside the park when she was struck by gunfire, according to a police report. She suffered a graze wound to her back, police said.

Police said the other two people who walked into a hospital with gunshot wounds were in stable condition. They were questioned by investigators, Benedict said. Investigators were still trying to locate the second vehicle involved in the shooting.

As the shots rang out, Nationals manager Davey Martinez was making sure his players were safe.

“Then I started worrying about their families and trying to do the best I could to get them down to the players,” Martinez said. “And I started worrying about the fans as well.”

Seeing the reaction on the third-base side of the stadium, fans on the first-base side began fleeing their seats as well. Some of them went down to the field.

“There was a bunch of fans, they were in our dugout, and I wanted to get them safe as well,” Martinez said. “We got them in through the tunnel and got them in safely and tried to keep them safe. For me it was just about protecting our people and doing the best I can to stay calm.”

Like Tingler, Martinez got emotional recounting the previous night’s events.

Minutes after the shots were heard, a message appeared on the Nationals Park scoreboard saying the incident was outside the park and fans should remain inside. About 10 minutes later, fans were instructed to leave by the centerfield and rightfield gates.

“We started to get word that everything happened right outside the stadium,” Tingler said. “That’s when we started to feel a little bit better. You never feel great.”

In a statement Sunday, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser and team owner Mark Lerner said police don’t think “the Washington Nationals, the ballpark or fans were the target” of the shooting.

“We appreciate the tremendous cooperation of the fans at Saturday night’s game who did all that was asked of them under very stressful circumstances, and the police and the fire emergency medical personnel who responded,” they said.

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