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Ron Darling recalls still-emotional Nationals Park next day

Fans jump into a camera well after hearing

Fans jump into a camera well after hearing gunfire from outside the stadium, during a baseball game between the San Diego Padres and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park in Washington on Saturday, July 17, 2021. Credit: AP/John McDonnell

Ron Darling was never so grateful to have a flight delayed by five hours.

Darling was supposed to be at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C., on Saturday night to prepare for the TBS national broadcast of Sunday’s Nationals-Padres game.

But Darling, the former Mets pitcher and longtime SNY broadcaster, didn’t make it to the ballpark because of flight delays in Florida.

After he landed in our nation’s capital, Darling heard of the shooting outside Nationals Park that wounded three people — one a fan leaving the ballpark — and caused a mad scramble of players and fans inside the shaken stadium.

 

"My plan was to be there," Darling said in a phone interview on Monday, "but I never did get there. So thankful for that."

The shooting was outside the stadium, but the people inside did not know that. The fear of an active shooter situation inside the ballpark must have been on the minds of those who weren’t sure whether to take cover, or run for their lives, or what to do exactly.

In the chaos that ensued, Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. opened a gate and started ushering fans into the dugout. Fans ran out of the ballpark even though they were told to shelter in place. Some ran out and then back in. Some crouched behind their box seats and held on tightly to loved ones.

It was pandemonium. Understandably.

"I remember calling and saying I’m not going to make the game," Darling said. "One of our producers said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on. The fans are running all over the place at the stadium.’ Within 15 minutes, you knew something was going on."

Eventually, the all-clear was sounded and fans exited the stadium. The shooting involved people in two vehicles outside the stadium. There were no fatalities.

About 12 hours later, on Sunday morning, people started walking into Nationals Park again, Darling among them.

The atmosphere inside had to be a little unusual for the resumption of the suspended game and the regular contest that followed.

"The national anthem seemed like it was sung by more fans and a little louder," said Darling, who was a Nationals broadcaster for their first season in D.C. in 2005 before joining SNY. "When the Padres took the field for the suspended game, they were greeted with really warm applause from the Nationals fans, which you don’t usually see for the visiting team. But you know they played a part in getting some of the fans into the dugout and into shelter — again, away from the unknown — and I think the fans really appreciate that."

Anyone who was there on Saturday night and came back on Sunday morning had to be in a daze.

"The managers [Dave Martinez of the Nationals and Jayce Tingler of the Padres] were hit by it hard," Darling said. "I didn’t get to talk to any players, so I’m sure the players were affected also. But the managers were both extremely emotional. You could tell that [Saturday] night was still lingering the next morning.

"So when you see these stoic managers — leaders of men — this emotional, you know it was a major, major event. No one knows if it’s an active shooter running around the stadium. I guess it was the unknown that scared everyone so much, and then it was reflected in the managers the next day."

The Padres won the suspended game. The Nationals won the regular one — an exciting, back-and-forth 8-7 victory — on a walk-off single in the ninth.

So the 27,221 fans in attendance on Sunday went home happy.

The 33,232 who were there on Saturday night probably were happy just to make it home at all.

New York Sports