City Paper is not for tourists
At 11:50 p.m. exactly one year ago, I was standing in the rain-soaked field at Nationals Park near the dugout with my cell phone camera trained on the dozens of anxious fans in front of me. One more strike by pitcher Daniel Hudson would mean a World Series title for the Washington Nationals.
I remember the silence that preceded the 3-2 pitch, a stadium of 16,000 fans collectively holding their breaths during the Game 7 watch party. I remember the euphoric roar after the strikeout played out on the big screen in D.C., located more than 1,400 miles away from the action in Houston. I remember the fans’ screams drowning out the announcers’ words. And I remember hitting record on my camera just before Jason Turner climbed on top of the dugout, ripped off his partially torn T-shirt, and made the dugout his own personal slip and slide.
The Nationals had beaten the Houston Astros, 6-2, in Game 7 to win the World Series. And Turner, a lifelong D.C. sports fan, had turned a baseball stadium into his own amusement park.
As I wiped the raindrops off my phone, one thought crossed my mind: I need to tweet the video out. Now. But before I left the dugout area to capture more scenes of the pandemonium, I shouted to Turner that he would probably be getting a few phone calls the following day.
He still doesn’t know the number of interviews he did.
“I never kept count, but there was a lot,” Turner tells me from his parents’ home in Burke, Virginia, on the one-year anniversary of the Nats’ World Series title. “CNN had me on. I went on Fox  and ripped off my shirt. I went on ABC for a little segment. A bunch of little organizations from around the country called me to have me on. I did one podcast.”
A lot has happened since that night. Fans like Turner weren’t able to cheer for the reigning World Series champions in person as they returned to Nationals Park this year to receive their championship rings. The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down most of the world as we know it.
Sports has returned in piecemeal fashion, and many people in the country are unable or unwilling to heed scientific advice to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
At the time, Turner was a freshman at George Mason University looking forward to another year of D.C. sports success. Now he’s three weeks from turning 21 and working as a part-time office clerk for a construction company in Northern Virginia. He decided to take a break from school after concluding that virtual learning would not be the right fit for him.
But he’ll always have night of Oct. 30, 2019, and the memories the World Series championship brought.
“I miss the atmosphere,” Turner says. “Even watching [last year’s playoff] games on TV, the games in Houston or games in St. Louis, you can still get into it, with all the crowd noise. But with artificial crowd noise—I wouldn’t say it’s boring because I love baseball, but it wasn’t as fun to watch this year without the packed crowds.”
About an inning prior to Turner’s viral celebration, I was sitting in the dugout when a man dressed in black, who appeared to be working as stadium security, shouted to Turner and his friend. He told them that they could hop on the dugout if the Nationals won the World Series. I did not know what Turner had planned, but kept a mental note to myself. Turner tells me that he and his friend had chatted with the man during commercial breaks and asked if they could hop on the dugout in celebration.
“He was like, ‘You gotta make it quick,'” Turner recalls. Permission granted.
A few minutes after capturing the slip and slide, I eventually found enough of a Wi-Fi connection to tweet the video. As I predicted, it didn’t take long for it to spread on Twitter. Turner tells me that even before he left the stadium, a lot of fellow fans had seen the video. He was soaking wet and shirtless, but he left Nationals Park as a local celebrity.
“A lot of people knew who I was leaving the stadium,” he says. “I didn’t have my shirt on. A hundred people patting you on the back, that leaves a good-sized five star.”
Turner got home around 1 or 2 a.m. that evening and immediately fell asleep. His parents woke him up at 6 a.m. and demanded to know what had happened the previous night. They pretended to be mad. They weren’t.
Turner turned on the TV and saw himself on the local news.
“I can’t believe that got as big as it did,” he says.
CNN later wrote that Turner “slid into America’s heart.” His moment of pure joy defined that season for Nationals fans.
Less than a week later, Turner was at the World Series parade where he says he took more than 200 photos with fans. A mother wanted him to hold her baby, who, Turner recalls, was wearing a Baby Shark onesie. In Turner’s hands was a large poster with an image of himself.
He’s about to slide.