DC government allows 5K fans per game for 1st Nats homestand

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WASHINGTON — The city government gave the Washington Nationals the go-ahead Monday to have 5,000 spectators at their home games when the regular season begins next month.

The Nationals were one of the few Major League Baseball teams that didn’t already have permission to allow fans this season.

Crowds were banned entirely from all stadiums for the 2020 MLB regular season because of the coronavirus pandemic, although some people did attend postseason games. But with COVID-19 cases decreasing and the distribution of the vaccines increasing, more and more activities are showing signs of returning to normal – or somewhat normal.

Nationals Park’s capacity is a little more than 41,000, so an attendance of 5,000 would represent slightly more than 12% of what the stadium can hold.

“To me, it seems obvious we can have fans. If we can have indoor dining, I think we can have fans in an outdoor stadium,” Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer said Monday.

“We definitely want to see as many Nats fans out there as we safely can,” Scherzer said.

Washington will host the New York Mets on April 1 to begin the 2021 season. That is the beginning of a three-game series, which will be followed by another three games in Washington against the Atlanta Braves.

The Nationals said they will begin talks this week with city officials about increasing the number of fans permitted to attend games starting with the series that begins April 15 against visiting Arizona.

“Long time coming,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “So excited to see our fans. They’re our 27th man. Looking forward to seeing them.”

Tickets to Washington’s home games will be available in “pods” of up to six seats; suites will have reduced capacities.

Face coverings that cover the mouth and nose will be required for everyone 2 years old and over.

No cash will be accepted for purchases of food or drinks, parking or in team stores.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.