WASHINGTON -- Opening Night in the nation's capital provided a lasting image, and that was before the game even started.
The usual pregame fanfare and the introduction of the World Series champion Washington Nationals and their opener rivals, the New York Yankees, were subdued in front of eerily empty stands Thursday, but followed by the powerful video narrated by Morgan Freeman, featuring The Players Alliance.
After a moment of silence, all coaches and players from both teams enclosed the field holding a black ribbon as a symbol of unity, and then took a knee to symbolize that Major League Baseball will be part of the nationwide movement to raise awareness of racial injustice.
"It was a way to bring hope and something to look to, a reason to show that we can all come together at the same time," said Giancarlo Stanton, who blasted a two-run tape-measure home run off Max Scherzer in the Yankees' 4-1 win. "I thought it was a good idea to bring power to have everyone kneel at the same time and bring hope for any overall reason you want to do it. And for me, it's for the racial injustice and the Black lives in general."
"We had a meeting and just decided we wanted to do something united, something together," said outfielder Aaron Judge, who went 2-for-3 with an RBI double. "We have a lot of guys in this clubhouse with different beliefs, feelings, and different walks of life and from different countries, and we wanted to respect all that. As a team, we came to the united decision to kneel right before the anthem, that was our decision and that was what we wanted to go with, we wanted to include everybody and we were all together on this."
Added Stanton: "The unity ceremony was started by the players. If you unite, kneeling can bring something good. It wasn't to stand out and do something separate for anything else than to bring unity all for the same cause."
Aaron Boone, in his third season as Yankees manager, conducted his pregame video conference call wearing a "Black Lives Matter" T-shirt. Boone, who has four children, including two he and his wife adopted from Haiti, said much discussion behind the scenes went into the pregame demonstration as it "was important for our guys that they were united in what we did."
Judge said this was only the beginning.
"This is definitely the first step for us because before, I know Bruce Maxwell took a knee during the anthem and we just didn't have the support yet," Judge said of the former Oakland Athletics catcher who in 2017 was the only major league player to protest racial injustice by taking a knee. "I don't think we were able to get the message together of staying unified. Now, having these conversations with our teammates, having those uncomfortable talks, is kind of the way to start this. It first starts with us. It starts with the team."
Most Yankees players and coaching staff also wore "Black Lives Matter" T-shirts during batting practice, and their away gray uniforms featured two patches with a similar message, with one of them reading "Black Lives Matter" and the other one "United for Change."
The Yankees' uniforms also featured a commemorative patch with the initials HGS, in recognition of the death of former general partner Henry G. "Hank" Steinbrenner. The eldest son of George M. Steinbrenner died April 14 due to a longstanding health issue.
Also Thursday, the Yankees confirmed that President Donald Trump will throw out the ceremonial first pitch before one of their home games this season. The president first mentioned it during a media briefing earlier in the day, saying he believed it would be before the Aug. 15 game against the Boston Red Sox, although the Yankees did not specify a date. According to Trump, Yankees president Randy Levine, whom he called "a great friend of mine from the Yankees," extended the invite.