WASHINGTON -- About 10 minute before first pitch Tuesday, different sounds made their way through Nationals Park.
The voices coming across the speakers and bouncing through the empty stadium were more high-pitched than usual. The Nationals have used several season-ticket holder videos as part of their game presentation during this fan-less season. But, this was different, as voices from dads, wives, sons, daughters and moms suddenly populated the video board, grabbing everyone’s attention.
Spunky Maverick and Brayden Eaton began. Brooklyn and Greyson Gomes followed with a brief sister-brother battle. And on went the video filled with missing faces before the Nationals’ 5-3 win against the Mets which yanked their record to 4-4.
Family logistics are always a challenge for major-league players. Normal times are difficult enough with 81 road games after spring training, then weeks of postseason play possible. A modest family room exists just across the hall from the home clubhouse entrance in Nationals Park. It has a play area outside to occupy the little ones until their dads can come out of the clubhouse either postgame clean or before they start a late-night routine.
Sometimes, families are able to travel on the plane. However, a multitude of in-house and real-life complications exist. School schedules, summer camp, age gaps between the kids changing where they want to be or what they will accept. And, of course, just how much traveling the organization gives clearance for.
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Everyone playing this season knew the detachment was going to be extreme. Sean Doolittle moved into a separate apartment from Eireann Dolan, his wife, who has an underlying lung condition. Ryan Zimmerman chose not to play in part because of the complications with seeing -- or not seeing -- his family. Some players had their children in Washington at first, but sent them home before the season began. The next time they would see them was unclear.
Daniel Hudson, father to three daughters, sat down with his wife to discuss all facets before the season began. Should he play? If he does, what does that mean for them? Back in the middle of July, he wasn’t sure when his wife and girls would be around. He was only sure they mostly would not be.
“it's tough but it's just part of it,” Hudson said then. “It's probably more difficult on my wife than anyone, having three kids under six by herself. But she was willing to make the sacrifice, and I felt like I needed to be here with the guys to try to get this thing going.
“It's nothing we haven't been through before. I was without them for multiple months last year coming from Toronto and they were back in Arizona. Public schools open in July in Arizona, where we live anyways, so I didn't see them except for about a week for Labor Day and they came obviously for the World Series. That's the only time I saw them all last summer. So it's nothing we haven't been through before, it's just part of the job and like I said, I feel like it's harder on the spouses more than anything. They deserve all the credit, not us. We just go play baseball. They hold the fort down. They are rock stars in my eyes, anyways."
The messaging was flipped Tuesday night on the video board. Hudson’s three daughters -- Baylor, Parker and Millie -- spelled out “N-A-T-S, Nats, Nats, Nats!” the best they could. Baby Millie, inadvertently made famous last fall, appeared more compelled by a leaf on the door mat than joining her sisters.
Tyson and Owen Kendrick, mainstays in the 2019 clubhouse, addressed Juan Soto, Kevin Long and Chip Hale, because the trio would often field and hit and throw with them. Their dad received a brief hello while the pair thanked those three for helping them. Being left out for the most part made Kendrick laugh.
“That’s the way it goes,” Kendrick said. “I’m their dad. I’m no different to them. It’s no different than me telling them something, then somebody else tells the same thing, but they listen to the other person. But it was really cool. That just shows you how much they love the guys and love being around the team. There’s a lot of guys they connect with here.
“I definitely miss that -- having them around. I talked to them the other day, and they’re like, ‘Man, we don’t want you to retire because you can’t go out like this from COVID.’ They want me to play another year so they can come back to the locker room and hang out. They want an opportunity to see my last game, and I think that’s something you think about with this situation we’re in. It’s unprecedented and nobody’s done this before. But, they don’t want to be sitting at home, just like we want them to be here.”
Carter Kieboom’s family chimed in. Aníbal Sánchez’s daughter, Annabella, advised to him to stay healthy and “stay in the houses” while his son, Aníbal, fidgeted with an oversized bat. Brooklyn Scherzer smirked her way through telling her dad she loves him. One of Davey Martinez’s granddaughters, Everly, delivered an emphatic, “Hi, papa!” The whole thing was a surprise and a jolt.
“No one knew that that was coming,” Martinez said. “I was shocked. I saw my daughters and my sons all up there. My grandbabies. And, I miss ‘em. I miss them tremendously. It was good to see them up there and I think that uplifted the boys a lot. I really do.”
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Martinez, who has an underlying heart condition, often FaceTimes his son and daughters and the little ones. Everly is a talker. Amora, his other granddaughter, is shy. His safety is on the minds of everyone who is not here to see him, protect him, or hug and laugh with him.
“I text my kids probably every day to see how they’re doing, how they’re holding up,” Martinez said. “We’re really close. To see them on the board like that was awesome. It really was. Breaks my heart that I can’t see them. But, they get it, they understand, they just want me to be safe.”
Family after family, dog after dog, finished the roughly four-minute miss-you card. It was a potent digital reminder of what is going in for Major League Baseball in 2020. No family, no fans, no normalcy. Heartfelt hellos on the video board will have to do.
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