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Congressional Baseball Game offers brief respite from tragedy and controversy

Everyone was on “Team Scalise” Thursday night.

Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., (36) and Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., right, react with members of the Republican team after the Congressional baseball game, Thursday, June 15, 2017, in Washington. The annual GOP-Democrats baseball game raises money for charity. The democrats won 11–2. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Approximately 36 hours after a lone gunman opened fire at a GOP congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, Dan Bailey, a Capitol Police officer who was wounded in the shooting, hobbled to the infield on crutches in front of a record crowd of 24,959 and threw out the first pitch at the 56th annual Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park.

The game, as they say, must go on.

The first Congressional Baseball Game was played in 1909, and it’s been held on an annual basis since 1962. But it’s safe to say that no game has been as symbolically important as the one on Thursday night, which took place as one of the four shooting victims, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), lay in critical condition at the hospital following three surgeries.

While the congressional baseball game is always played with a bipartisan spirit, this year, both Republicans and Democrats made sure that everyone knew they were on the same team — Team Scalise — on this particular night.

“By playing tonight, you are showing the world that we will not be intimidated by threats, acts of violence, or assaults on our democracy,” President Donald Trump said in a recorded message played on the giant outfield scoreboard before the first pitch. (Perhaps the biggest sign of bipartisan unity was the absence of booing during Trump’s message — it’s hard to imagine that happening 48 hours earlier.)

The pregame ceremonies were extensive and, at times, emotional. When the Republican team was introduced, Scalise’s name was announced last, and his photo was shown on the big screen. He received a raucous standing ovation, from the fans of both teams.

The two teams came together to pray at the pitcher’s mound before the game began, there was a moment of silence for all of the victims before the first pitch, and the ballpark reached a deafening roar when Bailey hobbled to the pitcher’s mound, along with baseball legend Joe Torre, to throw the first pitch. Many of the players on both teams wore LSU caps in Scalise’s honor.

That doesn’t mean a partisan divide wasn’t palpable. During the game — which the Democrats won handily, 11–2, to gain the edge in the overall head-to-head 40–39–1 — the fans of each team were predominately seated to the left or the right of home plate according to their location on the political spectrum. On the first base side, there was a plethora of “Make America Great Again” hats, and Reagan/Bush ’84 t-shirts. Up the third base line, there were witty West-Wing t-shirts, and plenty of signs suggesting their owners were still firmly “With Her.”

But unlike most political events in today’s climate, the mood of the evening was light-hearted, and strikingly optimistic.

Matt Golin, who lives about a half mile from where the shooting happened in Alexandria, decided to come to his first congressional baseball game after hearing about the tragedy. He came with three friends, who described themselves as a “fairly balanced” group of Republicans and Democrats.

Golin said that in today’s political climate, people are “too sensitive,” but he hoped that the baseball game would help the two parties find common ground.

“This event is bringing people together,” Golin’s friend, Hannah Godshell, told ThinkProgress. “It’s really great to see support like this. It’s unfortunate an event like this had to cause it, though. Hopefully it spreads across the country.”

Congressional leadership comes together; Political sign in front of the stadium; Matt Golin (second from the left) and Hannah Godshell (right) with friends. CREDIT: Lindsay Gibbs, Casey Quinlan

Sixty-six year-old James Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois approached the GOP team around 7:00 a.m. ET as it was practicing for the game, and opened fire. The Capitol Police, which were only at the field because Scalise is part of House leadership, fired back and struck Hodgkinson, who died at the hospital from his wounds. By all accounts, had the police not been at the scene, Hodgkinson could have done a lot more damage.

A bullet entered Scalise’s left hip, and, according to MedStar Washington Hospital Center, “traveled across his pelvis, fracturing bones, injuring internal organs, and causing severe bleeding.” He went into shock, and in the last 36 hours has gone through many units of blood transfusion and three surgeries. There could be more operations in his future.

Capitol Police Officer Crystal Griner was also shot, as was Tyson Foods lobbyist Matt Mika and congressional staffer Zachary Barth. Mika is still in the intensive care unit with chest wounds, though he has been downgraded from critical to serious condition.

It would be easy to let a senseless act of violence like this further polarize the nation; after all, Hodgkinson was reportedly a huge Bernie Sanders supporter who reportedly asked whether the baseball players were Democrats or Republicans before he started shooting.

But Young Americans for Liberty member Sean Themea, who was proudly sporting an “I Stand with Rand” t-shirt that he purchased a C-PAC 2015 (which means it’s “vintage,” he explained), said he’d been encouraged by the responses he’s seen to the tragedy from both sides of the aisle.

Sean Themea CREDIT: Lindsay Gibbs

“There’s a lot of great people on both sides who have come together and prayed and showed support — President Trump has sent a strong message of unity, and the Democrat team even prayed for the Republican team after they heard about the shooting,” Themea said while standing in line to get a hot dog. “It was a tragic event. God bless the Capitol Police for being there.”

Political leaders aren’t the only ones who have shown compassion in the aftermath of this tragedy. The CBG is always a charity event, and since the shooting, over $1 million has been raised for the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington, the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation, the Washington Literacy Center, and the Capitol Police Memorial Fund.

By Friday morning, things will have most likely returned to normal on Capitol Hill. A dangerous and “mean” health care bill will continue to be pushed forward behind closed doors in the Senate, without even a whiff of bipartisan support; the Department of Justice will continue to set back civil rights; and the President will cease delivering subdued messages about unity in favor of his usual diet of enraged and unhinged tweets about political witch hunts.

But on Thursday night, after the Democrats were presented with the trophy, Democratic manager Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) presented Republican manager Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) with the trophy, and told him to keep it in Scalise’s office until the congressman returned to good health.

For a moment, at least, everyone was on the same team. In today’s political climate, that’s something worth celebrating.

Congressional Baseball Game offers brief respite from tragedy and controversy was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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