The Nationals and Yankees knelt in unison before the first game of the baseball season as part of an opening day ceremony Thursday night that featured references to the Black Lives Matter movement, the coronavirus pandemic – including an off-the-mark first pitch by Dr Anthony Fauci – and the home team’s 2019 championship.
Players from both clubs wore T-shirts saying Black Lives Matter during batting practice at Nationals Park, and the letters ‘BLM’ were stenciled into the back of the mound at the center of the diamond.
In a poignant reference to the racial reckoning happening in the US, players and other members of both teams held a long black ribbon while standing spaced out along the two foul lines. After they placed the ribbon on the ground, everyone then got on their knees.
They all then rose for a taped performance of the national anthem.
Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, was invited by the Nationals to throw out the ceremonial first pitch – a fitting choice during the current medical crisis. Wearing a mask on the mound, Fauci sent his toss well wide of home plate, and the ball bounced past his “catcher”, Washington reliever Sean Doolittle.
Afterward, Fauci and Doolittle tapped gloves, instead of shaking hands.
Fauci’s effort drew light-hearted comparisons to other public figures whose first pitches went awry through the years, including Cincinnati mayor Mark Mallory, rapper 50 Cent, Olympic hero Carl Lewis, Miss Texas 2014 and Canadian pop icon Carly Rae Jepsen.
Judge got the first hit of the season and moments later teammate Giancarlo Stanton tagged Washington ace Max Scherzer for the first home run of the season.
In the bottom of the first inning, Adam Eaton homered off prized Yankees newcomer Gerrit Cole.
The game went into a rain delay in the sixth inning with the Yankees batting while leading 4-1.
Yankees players had decided Wednesday they wanted to kneel for 60 seconds before the anthem. New York officials then asked Washington if that time could be added to the pregame script. The Nationals decided they wanted to join the Yankees.
“We’ve had conversations as an organization. We’ve had conversations as a team. We’ve had smaller group conversations. Conversations with one another,” New York manager Aaron Boone said hours before the game. “And we’ve kind of decided … we’ll, as a team, have our own demonstration on the field.”
That display followed a series of videos shown on the outfield scoreboard: about Black Lives Matter, showing major league players such as New York’s Aaron Judge and Washington’s Howie Kendrick; about the Nationals’ postseason run; about the Covid-19 outbreak.
Without any spectators present to appreciate the celebrations, flags noting the franchise’s first title were raised beyond right field and above the scoreboard, and “2019 World Champions” was written on a red mat that was wrapped around the batter’s boxes during pregame introductions.
Earlier Thursday, US president Donald Trump confirmed he would throw out the first pitch when the Yankees host the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on 15 August.
Trump, a native New Yorker who has yet to throw out a first pitch while serving as president, made the announcement during his daily coronavirus update at the White House.
“Randy Levine is a great friend of mine from the Yankees,” Trump said of the team’s president.
“He asked me to throw out the first pitch … It’s going to be interesting.”
Trump will take heart in knowing that game will take place in an empty stadium due to coronavirus-related health and safety violations: He was infamously booed by a Washington crowd when he attended Game 5 of the World Series between the Nationals and Houston Astros in October.