WASHINGTON — Members of the Washington Nationals, including catcher Kurt Suzuki, attended a White House ceremony Monday to celebrate their World Series championship.
During his turn at the podium, Suzuki wore a red MAGA (Make America Great Again) cap like those worn by President Trump’s supporters, and was embraced from behind by Trump for a few seconds while he spoke.
“I love you all. I love you all. Thank you,” Suzuki said.
The image of Trump holding Suzuki has already become a meme and appeared on the late-night talk shows, with some likening it to the scene from “Titanic” where Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are together on the bow of the doomed ship.
If Suzuki hadn’t expected much reaction to his White House visit, the Internet quickly reminded him of the swift nature of online reaction – and the prevailing national partisanship. Suzuki’s participation has sparked sometimes heated discussions in online forums such as “You Know You’re Japanese American When …” on Facebook.
Some fans of Suzuki — who is from Maui and played for Cal State Fullerton before joining the Oakland A’s, Minnesota Twins, Atlanta Braves, and the Nationals — expressed disappointment and even anger. Others pointed out that Suzuki is free to make any political statement he wants and is not obligated to represent Japanese Americans in a particular way. Many of the comments turned into arguments and name-calling between Trump supporters and opponents.
The debate on Twitter continued full-force on Tuesday, with one user commenting, “How utterly absurd, Suzuki. MAGA translates to targeted, bigoted hate.” Another renounced his support of the veteran catcher, posting, “Kurt Suzuki I feel sick and sad. As a longtime A’s fan, I proudly wore your hat. Never again! I rooted for the Nationals in hopes you would get a ring. My mistake. MAGA pres is criminal – that’s how you’ll be remembered.”
Others defended Suzuki’s right to express his support for the president and any of his political leanings. One poster, who identified as voting Democrat in 2020, wrote, “The amount of people offended and angry because Kurt Suzuki put on a MAGA hat is ridiculous. Is there anything people aren’t offended by in today’s culture? Jeesh. Every move you make today has a chance of offending someone.”
Aware of some of the negative responses, Suzuki told USA Today via text, “It was amazing. That was the president. Just trying to have some fun.”
“Everybody makes everything political. It was about our team winning the World Series,” Suzuki said in another text.
In an interview with TMZ Sports, Suzuki said, “We all had a good time,” but admitted he had no idea that Trump was going to embrace him.
Asked if there was a divide between the players over Trump, Suzuki responded, “I love all my teammates, brother.”
Asked if he planned to wear the MAGA hat again, he said, “I’ll be wearing my Washington Nationals hat.”
First baseman Ryan Zimmerman presented Trump with a Nationals jersey. “This is an incredible honor I’d like to think none of us will ever forget,” Zimmerman said. “We’d also like to thank you for keeping every¬one here safe in our country and continuing to make America the greatest country to live in the world.”
Of the 25 team members, 18 attended the ceremony. Reliever Sean Doolittle was the first to publicly announce his decision not to. “There’s a lot of things, policies that I disagree with, but at the end of the day, it has more to do with the divisive rhetoric and the enabling of conspiracy theories and widening the divide in this country,” Doolittle told The Washington Post. “My wife and I stand for inclusion and acceptance, and we’ve done work with refugees … At the end of the day, as much as I wanted to be there with my teammates and share that experience with my teammates, I can’t do it. I just can’t do it.”
Of those who attended the ceremony, Doolittle said he respected their decision and they respected his.
Anthony Rendon, Joe Ross and Javy Guerra also declined to attend.
World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg spoke during the ceremony, but video of him walking past an attempted handshake by the president after speaking is also making rounds on social media, as a possible snub.
Several athletes have opted not to meet with Trump after winning championships, including members of the Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL, and the entire Golden State Warriors basketball team, who opted instead for a visit with former president Barack Obama.
— Rafu Staff Reports