Padres recall terrifying moments after shooting at ballpark

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There were five minutes Saturday night when everyone inside Nationals Park thought the same thing.

“It kind of registered what it possibly could have been and — and then, obviously, it was just, it’s a nightmare,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler said Sunday morning. “It’s the thing maybe you think about in the back of your mind.”

And so, as the Padres prepared some 16 hours later to resume a game interrupted by gunfire outside the ballpark, they worked to process the fear that was felt inside it.

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Tingler was at home plate talking with umpire Jordan Baker in between the top and bottom of the sixth inning about making a pitching change when they heard what sounded like three loud bangs in succession.

As those leaving the field looked up, they saw fans running every which way.

“It was a panic situation,” Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. said. “I saw everybody running. It was crazy. You couldn’t figure out what was going on.”

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Just a few minutes after the field had been cleared, as many fans were streaming out of a gate beyond center field and others were lying on the cement beneath their seats, Tatis sprinted out from the clubhouse, past the visitors’ dugout and pushed open a gate along the left field line. He grabbed two children and took them to the dugout. Then he came back for more.

“There were little kids,” Tatis said Sunday morning. “I felt like somebody had to go get them. I felt the safest place was the clubhouse. I was just trying to get the families and get to a safe place.”

Jurickson Profar was right behind Tatis. Soon, so were Wil Myers and Manny Machado and a few others.

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Players did not stop fans from coming through the open gate and filling the dugout. In a matter of minutes, as players and family members huddled in the hallway leading to the clubhouse, the visitors’ dugout was full of dozens of fans.

“The situation changed immediately,” Tatis said. “There was no longer players or fans. I feel like everybody was people, just human beings out there.”

As this was happening, Padres and Nationals relief pitchers were stuck in the bullpens beyond the outfield wall for a good five minutes, until it was determined it was safe for them to head to the clubhouse.

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That was a long five minutes for reliever Emilio Pagán.

“All I was thinking of was, were my wife and daughters safe?” Pagán said Sunday. “They were on the concourse. I was scared. I was real scared.”

He sprinted in and found them, his daughters crying and his wife “shook.”

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What many in the Padres traveling party were thinking about Sunday was not whatever danger they were actually in the previous night. It was what they thought might be happening and what their children, especially, had to process.

It was of little consequence to Pagán’s 4-year-old daughter — his other daughter is an infant — that what had happened was an exchange of gunfire between people in two vehicles on the street that runs along the third base side of the ballpark.

Her fear was a product of the fear and chaos she saw around them. No one slept well in the Pagáns’ hotel room Saturday night.

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“Nightmare,” Pagán said. “Just a nightmare. Stupid. Just stupid.”

It was too late by then to shrug and say they had been safe all along.

But that’s what they had to do.

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In a way, Major League Baseball players are among the best at doing so. They spend eight months each year focusing one day at a time.

“It’s a new day,” Myers said. “Things happen. You move on.”

He spoke of the events the way he speaks of at-bats and games.

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“You make adjustments and you move on,” he said.

Saturday’s game was suspended in the sixth inning with the Padres leading 8-4. The stadium was evacuated, and shortly after 11 p.m. local time, the Padres’ team buses were escorted by police out from the bowels of Nationals Park.

Tingler planned to speak with the team before they began playing Sunday. They had 3½ innings to complete, then a full nine-inning game, then a flight to Atlanta.

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“I just plan on just speaking from the heart, and just telling them how proud of them I am as men,” he said. “And we’re going to go out, we’re going to do the best we can at clearing our minds, and going to play baseball. We’re going to also think about and keep our families and friends and loved ones on our mind, but we are going to go play baseball.”

Acee writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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