WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans and Democrats joined in friendly rivalry Thursday at their annual Congressional Baseball game, all counting themselves as members of “Team Scalise” in honor of their grievously wounded colleague.
The game at Nationals Park carried on a century-old bipartisan ritual, this time in the shocked aftermath of the shooting rampage a day earlier against Republican players at a Virginia practice session.
A huge ovation swept the park when Special Agent David Bailey, one of the Capitol Police officers injured in the attack, threw out the first pitch. “ONE FAMILY,” proclaimed a sign in the crowd. The announcer’s mention of Congressman Steve Scalise, the House majority whip who was critically wounded in the attack Wednesday, brought the masses to their feet.
Breaking from their partisan rancor at least for now, members of Congress from both parties gathered together in prayer around second base as fans chanted “USA, USA,” before they took the field. Many of the players wore Louisiana State University hats in honor of Scalise, a graduate of the school.
“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.”
From the stands, Vince Wetzel, a resident of Sacramento, California, who is visiting Washington and decided to take in the game, said, “It’s just a good call to put aside political differences and just play some baseball.”
Lucee Laursen of La Crosse, Wisconsin, interning in the capital for a nonprofit, said, “It’s showing that we might have differences in political spheres but we come together for a good cause.”
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. He remained listed in critical condition Thursday after multiple surgeries.
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.
Once a relatively cozy affair, played at a minor league ballpark in Maryland, the game has gone big time in recent years and has been played at Nationals Park, just a few blocks from the Capitol.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred offered his thoughts and prayers after the shooting and endorsed the decision to play ball. He said he hoped the game would help heal emotional wounds.
In the history of the contest, Republicans and Democrats each have won 39 games, with one tie.