WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Popular players on the Washington Nationals baseball team praised Donald Trump at Monday’s White House celebration of their World Series championship, days after the polarizing U.S. president drew boos from fans and criticism from a pitcher on the underdog team.
Trump congratulated the Nationals on their first ever World Series title against the Houston Astros last week, drawing cheers from thousands of red-clad Nationals fans at the White House South Portico, and winning plaudits from players who took turns at the microphone.
Ryan Zimmerman, the Washington franchise’s first-ever draft pick in 2005, went beyond the gratitude that other players expressed, voicing support for the Republican president.
“We’d also like to thank you for keeping everyone here safe in our country and continuing to make America the greatest country to live in the world,” he said, handing Trump a Nationals jersey emblazoned with the number 45.
The 45th president, Trump wrapped the Nationals’ Kurt Suzuki in a tight hug from behind when the catcher donned a red “Make American Great Again” cap and said, “I love you all. Thank you.”
The praise likely buoyed Trump, whose appearance at the Game 5 World Series match-up drew boos and chants of “lock him up” from the crowd in a capital city that is overwhelmingly Democratic.
Pitcher Sean Doolittle declined the White House invitation, citing Trump’s mimicking of a reporter’s disability on the campaign trail and policies that discriminate against LGBT people.
Trump’s administration has banned transgender people from the U.S. military, cut funding for HIV and AIDS research and supported the right of medical providers and adoption agencies to deny services to LGBT+ people.
“I can’t get past that stuff,” Doolittle told the Washington Post this week. Other Nationals players, including star third baseman Anthony Rendon, were absent but it was not immediately clear why.
Trump inserted his own political commentary into the event, jokingly taking aim at a House of Representatives-led impeachment inquiry into his presidency, over accusations he pressured Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden.
“America fell in love with Nats baseball. That is all they wanted to talk about, that and impeachment,” he said. “I like Nats baseball much more,” he added, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Despite the political tenor of the remarks, the Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo appeared to praise the Nats for staying out of political issues.
“When you read about the Washington Nationals, you read about (them) in the sports section and I think that is very important,” he said, noting that the team “unified a region when the region needed unifying the most.”
The team fought back from scoring deficits, overcame a series of injuries and fended off a long list of powerful opponents on the way to capturing their first title last week.
Reporting by Alexandra Alper; Editing by Howard Goller