WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats joined in a spirited, friendly rivalry at their annual Congressional Baseball game, many fresh from the penetrating horror of the ballfield shooting rampage a day earlier and all playing in honor of their grievously wounded colleague.
The game at Nationals Park on Thursday evening carried on a century-old bipartisan ritual, this one tinged with worry about Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise and the players’ determination to answer the attack by coming together in sport. Democrats won in an 11-2 blowout.
In a final flourish of bipartisan camaraderie for the night, Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, his team's manager, accepted the trophy, then gave it to his GOP counterpart, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, to put in Scalise's office on behalf of the Democrats. After accepting it gracefully, Barton cracked, “Next year we won't be so nice.”
A huge ovation came from the crowd, which swelled to a record 24,959, when Special Agent David Bailey, one of the Capitol Police officers injured in the attack on Republicans at their ball practice in Virginia, threw out the first pitch. “ONE FAMILY,” proclaimed a sign in the crowd. The announcer's mention of Scalise, the House majority whip who was critically wounded in the attack Wednesday, brought the masses to their feet.
Scalise remained listed in critical condition Thursday night after multiple surgeries, though word came from the hospital during the game that he had improved.
“By playing tonight we are showing the world that we will not be intimidated by threats, acts of violence or assaults on our democracy,” said President Donald Trump, appearing on the park's giant screen but not attending. “The game will go on.”
When the president intoned three words he said have brought Americans together for generations — “Let's play ball” — cheers rang out. But despite the unifying nature of the event, there were boos for the president, too, from the section for Democratic fans on the third base side.
Before the event, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters, “Tonight we will go to the game, play our hardest, but we will all be Team Scalise.”
Republican Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee scored in the first inning, enjoying a different sort of adrenaline than the one he experienced Wednesday when he passed by the shooter over bloodied ground to take shelter in a dugout — confessing later that “the fear factor was horrific.”
On that day, a man later identified as the attacker approached Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina in the parking lot of the Alexandria, Virginia, ballfield, asking him, “Excuse me, sir, who's practicing today, Democrats or Republicans?” as Duncan recalls the encounter. He said Republicans were on the field, shortly before the gunman began shooting at them.
Duncan found that memory hard to shake Thursday night as he stood in for Scalise at second base.
“That was tough for me,” Duncan said. “That was humbling in a way. It was never off my mind when I ran out there ... the reason I was going to second base was Steve Scalise, my colleague, was fighting for his life in the hospital right now.”
Rep. Roger Williams of Texas, taken away in a stretcher with an injured ankle from the chaos in Virginia, hobbled around the third-base box Thursday night, coaching the GOP team as planned, with his crutches set aside. He wore a purple boot. His aide, Zack Barth, who was shot by the Virginia assailant, walked across the field on crutches. Both had appeared on the House floor earlier Thursday.
Scalise was fielding balls at second base during the practice Wednesday when he was shot in the hip, and sustained serious injuries as the bullet traveled through his pelvis and injured internal organs.
The congressional game, which dates to 1909 and is a summertime tradition on Capitol Hill, is a rare example of bipartisanship in an increasingly polarized Washington. Long-ago Little Leaguers now in Congress don their spikes and dust off their gloves in a game played for claiming top dog status and to benefit several charities.
The charities are the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington, Washington Literacy Center, the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation and, after Wednesday's shooting, the Capitol Police Memorial Fund.