Like many in Washington that night in late May, Michele Crowl just wanted good information.
It was past 11 p.m., and the Nationals and Cincinnati Reds were in the third hour of a rain delay. Crowl’s son, husband and brother-in-law were at the game, refreshing their weather apps, debating whether they should wait out the storm or start the long drive back to Hockessin, Del. So Crowl decided to call Nationals Park for an update.
She tried the ticket office, and the phone rang once and went dead. She dialed again, the automated operator asked whom she wanted to speak with, and Crowl figured a vague reply could give her a better shot at reaching an actual human.
“General management office,” Crowl requested, and she had no expectations until a man answered, a hint of surprise in his voice.
“Hello?” he said, as if it were a question.
“Can I speak to a representative of the Washington Nationals?” Crowl responded.
“You are speaking to a representative of the Washington Nationals,” the man recalled saying, confusing those in his crowded office. When Crowl asked for clarity on the game’s status, he told her it would almost certainly be suspended. When she asked what would happen to her family’s tickets, he said he had no idea. When he asked for her name, she provided it, hoping that would get her closer to what she called for in the first place.
It didn’t. But that was okay.
“Ms. Crowl, this is Dave Martinez,” the Nationals’ manager said. He covered the receiver with his hand, looked at General Manager Mike Rizzo, bench coach Tim Bogar and Jen Giglio, the team’s head of communications, and mouthed: “It’s a fan.” They all laughed, their eyes wide with tired shock.
“She just freaking went off on the phone,” Martinez remembered a few weeks later, sitting in the visitors’ dugout at LoanDepot Park in Miami. “And then we’re having a whole different conversation.”
They talked for about 20 minutes, ranging from the Nationals’ season, to Martinez’s leadership style, to what the world may look like post-coronavirus pandemic. Crowl told Martinez that her son, Ryan, used Martinez’s “bumpy roads lead to beautiful places” quote on his high school yearbook page. Martinez gave Crowl an email address to get them tickets to a future game — because Ryan, his dad and his uncle couldn’t make it when the suspended action resumed the next afternoon.
Crowl thanked Martinez for always sticking up for his players. Martinez thanked her for being such a supportive fan.
“He exudes that sense of empathy and decency, and that only comes when you’re an authentic guy,” Crowl said in a phone interview. “If you’ve been around enough, if you’re of a particular age, then you understand when it’s real and when it’s something that’s put on. And it’s real with him. If anything, that phone call is a testament that it is real and it’s not something that he pretends to be.”
This was shortly after a man streaked across the grass and crawled into a tarp roller, hiding from security guards. This was before the Nationals embarked on a 15-4 stretch to revive their season and get back in the playoff race. The Reds had already headed to their hotel. The cleaning crew was sweeping trash into the aisles, then lifting piles to their waterlogged bins. The crowd was packed on the concourse, grumbling, steeling for a dash toward their cars or the Metro station.
And down the tunnel from the Nationals’ dugout, just one turn from the field, Martinez spoke with Crowl, his feet on his desk, his mind wandering away from who would pitch tomorrow or the next day. No one ever called his landline. But he answered because it could have been the umpires, officially suspending the game. Then he didn’t hang up.
“I love people,” Martinez said. “I really do. That’s who I am. I have conversations.”
“Because we didn’t have any [fans] in 2020, I think we all realize how much they mean to us, the motivation that they give us,” Martinez continued. “When you get someone like that on the phone, I’m saying to myself, ‘Hey, this is awesome.’ For me to hear them say how much they appreciate what we do and how much they appreciate me staying so positive, being who I am, it’s nice to hear those things, especially in struggling times.
“It’s a cool story, like a memory you don’t forget. Like who would’ve thought somebody called my office and I’d have a conversation with a fan, you know what I mean? Which, then I thought: ‘You know what? Maybe I should call fans and say: Hey, how are you doing? This is Dave Martinez.’”
Could that lead to some, uh, opinions about his in-game decisions?
“Yeah,” Martinez said with a big laugh. “There would be a whole lot of managing going on.”