President Donald Trump drew loud jeers from the hometown crowd at the World Series on Sunday night, straining the unifying power of the Washington Nationals and their quest for the capital’s first title in almost a century.
The president and first lady Melania Trump arrived at Nationals Park right around the first pitch for Game 5, settling into an open-air VIP box perched over home plate. He drew sustained and loud boos — along with scattered chants of “lock him up” — when he was shown on the stadium’s jumbotron, highlighting tensions stoked by House Democrats impeachment inquiry into the president.
Trump’s appearance came hours after he announced that the head of Islamic State, terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed by U.S. Special Forces in a raid on Saturday. That failed to mute criticism of the commander-in-chief on the national stage of the World Series. His visit bore little resemblance to then-President George W. Bush’s appearance at Game 3 of the World Series in New York in 2001, weeks after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, which served as a moment of national unity.
The president’s guest list for the game reflected the current divide in Washington. It featured a roster of Republican loyalists including Sens. Lindsey Graham and David Perdue — who also golfed with Trump on Saturday, according to the White House — along with 10 GOP House members.
The Nationals lost 7-1 and now trail the Houston Astros in the best-of-seven series after dropping three straight games at home. The teams head to Houston for what could be a decisive Game 6 on Tuesday night.
Early into Sunday’s game, Nats Park rocked, with fans screaming and ready to belt out their signature “Nats, Nats, Nats Wooooo” cheer for any run scored. They broke into shark-jaw gestures when pinch-hitter Gerardo Parra came to bat in the sixth inning.
But when Trump’s image came up on the scoreboard, during a tribute to U.S. military personnel, fans erupted into boos. The president kept waving and maintained a strained smile. As the game continued, a handful of fans unfurled a banner in the right-field stands that read “Impeach Trump.”
While in the VIP box, Trump huddled with some of the lawmakers who were his guests. After the president’s departure, when asked what they discussed, Graham replied in an interview that Trump told them, “‘Good pitching always beats good hitting.’”
Trump, whose social forays as president have mostly consisted of dinners at his downtown hotel, was making a rare appearance at a public sporting event in a city where only 4% of the population backed him in the 2016 election. Certain prominent Washington-area Republicans are among the Nats’ keenest fans.
Before the military raid was confirmed on Sunday, some observers suggested that Trump could be in for rough treatment at the ballpark.
In recent weeks, red-clad, roaring crowds have watched as the Nationals purged the frustration fueled by a World Series defeat for the Washington team in 1933, the departure of two teams for other cities, and four losses this decade in post-season playoffs. The team’s race to the championship has spurred frequent political rivals to unite behind the same nonpolitical goal: a Series title for the nation’s capital.
Trump missed Sunday’s pregame festivities, including the national anthem, and left the park during the eighth inning, well before the final pitch.
He didn’t toss the ceremonial first pitch, a century-old baseball tradition. Instead, the team gave the honor to restaurateur Jose Andres, who dropped plans in 2015 to open a restaurant in Trump’s Washington hotel after then-candidate Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists.”
Andres — who drew loud cheers from the crowd — is known for his efforts to feed Puerto Rican hurricane victims, Houston flood survivors, California fire refugees and federal workers denied a paycheck during a partial government shutdown in January. On Saturday, he tweeted that he was practicing.
Trump, who has tossed the first pitch at past major league games, hasn’t performed the role since becoming president, joining William Howard Taft as the only chief executives to avoid the duty.
On Thursday, ahead of the game, Trump seemed averse to a pitch. “They’re going to have to dress me up in a lot of heavy armor,” he told reporters in the Oval Office. “I’ll look too heavy. I don’t like that.”
The Nationals’ principal owner, developer Mark Lerner, told The Washington Post that Trump had “every right” to attend Sunday’s game.
Nats fans include Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who has shared season tickets with a group of friends and makes a point of going to every hometown postseason game. The Trump appointee told senators during his confirmation process last year that he had attended all 11 postseason games played to that point.
In September, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a Barack Obama appointee, threw out the ceremonial first pitch as part of the team’s recognition of Hispanic Heritage Day.
As the Nats closed in on the National League crown and a trip to the World Series, CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer tweeted congratulations to “my Washington Nationals” and Fox News’s Bret Baier chimed in on Twitter to root for a series sweep.
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