natspic

Fans run onto the field for cover after shots are heard from a shooting outside the stadium during a Washington Nationals Game on July 17, 2021.

Fear of the unknown.

It’s common to feel fear in many different scenarios, such as taking a test or facing a challenge. However, fear of the unknown can take on a whole new meaning when the unknown is the difference between life and death. It took about 20 minutes for my life to change at a Washington Nationals game, where fear was the king factor in the chaos that ensued.

Before those 20 minutes, everything felt blissful. I celebrated with friends, family and fellow Dukes the success of JMU softball, and even sat a mere three rows in front of the team. This game was something I'd been looking forward to for weeks, and it was the perfect start of an evening of baseball. 

When the shots rang out across the stadium, I didn’t originally know what they were coming from. The echo from the stadium walls made the noise feel like fireworks going off or a food stand falling over. It wasn’t until I saw people fleeing their seats en mass when I could sense something was wrong. 

In the blink of an eye, the field and Diamond Club seats — just behind home plate — were completely empty, even though it wasn’t acknowledged by fans for a moment. Everyone was so fixated on the noise that we missed the players being ushered away. People were on their phones taking videos and talking among themselves to find out more information.

I stood at my seat along the third baseline after the mass exit onto the concourse. Already fearing the worst, I wasn’t sure what to do. No one around us had answers, and no announcement had been made by the Nationals PR team. 

The hardest part was having to lay on the ground — it meant the fear was real. All of a sudden, my fear turned into a reality, and there were still no answers. People sprinted across the concourse while security tried to safeguard others in the stands. There was never a moment of true silence inside the stadium, but screams of excitement turned into hushed murmurs. 

After the first announcement by the Nationals, I still refused to get off the ground. Even though we finally heard something, we weren’t given true answers. Fans were told to stay in their seats and that the situation was being monitored — then the commotion returned. Another minute or two went by before the public announcement team said the incident was outside and that there was no real threat to the stadium or fans inside. 

While exiting the stadium, the fear of not comprehending what happened was painted on faces all around me. Parents were clutching their children’s hands, police were giving instructions for returning to parking garages and fans were forming groups to walk together. The restaurants next to the stadium had people trying to find a way out as they weaved through the crowd. The park was trending on Twitter, and yet even still, it felt like there were no answers.

Looking back on that game, there was no real threat to anyone inside. The problem was that fans had no clue that was true. Videos taken of the immediate reaction by fans inside show there was no knowledge that everything was safe — there was only a human reaction to fear. 

When analyzing the events, stories came from fans saying how grateful they were there for ballpark staff, Nationals manager Davey Martinez and San Diego Padres players Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado — who all brought fans into safety. Tatis Jr., Machado and Martinez let fans into their respective dugouts, while ballpark staff ushered fans behind food counters, into the kitchens and into bathrooms. For JMU, there was a comfort in knowing that we all checked in on one another as well.

Knowing there are now answers helps ease the pain of the incident — particularly getting confirmation that fans inside the stadium weren’t in danger. The trauma of what happened won’t fade easily, if at all for some because uncertainty overwhelmed any other emotion. There’s no simple way to explain what that night did because it affected everyone in their own way. 

Fear of the unknown caused the chaos that surrounded Nats Park, but fans still shouldn’t live in that fear. A difficult part of moving forward is to remind yourself why you love it in the first place, and returning to a game will help. Although fear controlled the events of that game, we can’t let it control the aftermath.

Contact Madison Hricik at breezesports@gmail.com. For more sports coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.