Lawmakers Tear Up Talking Importance Of Bipartisan Baseball Game

UNITED STATES - JUNE 14: Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, center, and his sons, board the Rayburn subway basement of the Capitol after a shooting at the Republican's baseball practice in Alexandria on June 14, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Tom Williams/CQPHO

The annual Democrats-versus-Republicans Congressional Baseball Game at Nats Stadium in Southeast D.C. will go on Thursday night as scheduled, despite the tragic shooting at Republicans’ early morning practice Wednesday that wounded five people, including a member of Congress.

The decision was made just hours after the shooting, when even those who had been at the practice and narrowly survived stressed its importance as one of the only positive traditions left in a time of increasing partisan rancor.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the manager of the Republican team, approached reporters Wednesday morning with a blank, numb expression on his face, still wearing his rumpled red uniform. “This is a charity baseball game. We’ve played it for almost 100 years,” he said, seemingly in disbelief of what he and his 10-year-old son had just seen. “In some ways, it’s what democracy is all about.”

This year, in addition to the usual beneficiaries of the proceeds of the game—the Boys and Girls Club, the Washington Literacy Center, and the Nationals Dream Foundation—ticket sales from Thursday’s game will go to the Fallen Officers Fund in honor of the two Capitol Police officers who were injured Wednesday while taking down the gunman who targeted the practice. One officer has already been treated and released, while the other remains in the hospital, but is expected to make a full recovery post-surgery.

Two others shot Wednesday—Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and former congressional staffer Matt Mika—remain in critical condition. Lawmakers and staff plan to wear uniforms of Scalise’s favorite team, Louisiana State University, Thursday night in his honor.

Like Barton, Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), the team’s relief pitcher, became overcome Wednesday talking about what the game means to him and other lawmakers and why its vital the tradition be continued.

“All of us want to play. We can’t let haters win,” he said.

“It’s one of the things that makes you feel more normal. The camaraderie we have in the mornings …” he trailed off, blinking back tears. “I’m sorry,” he said to the gaggle of reporters clustered around him as he took deep breaths and tried to compose himself. “When we’re out there, it’s such a change from the pressures we feel on a regular basis. Out there on the field, we treat each other like we’re back in high school again.”

Even though Democrats and Republicans face off against one another on opposing teams, lawmakers said, the friendly tone of the competition is a far cry from the bitter debates over health care, the budget, and the Trump-Russia investigation that have plagued Capitol Hill this year.

“[Ohio Democrat] Tim Ryan and I have a little thing going, because I struck him out on a curveball a couple of years ago,” Meehan recalled fondly. “Every time we see each other, we joke about that. He just came up and gave me a hug.” Meehan voice broke again. “It tells you how much we share that’s away from this,” he said, waving his hand to indicate the congressional meeting rooms around him.

When the news of the shooting broke Wednesday morning, Democrats who were practicing at a field on the other side of the Potomac River, paused to pray for their colleagues.

“What makes this even more awful is that this game is one of the things that’s right with this town,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), the catcher on the Democrats’ team, told TPM. “This is a game where Republicans and Democrats come together, and put fellowship and bipartisanship ahead of party politics. It makes the shooter’s decision to target their practice even harder to understand.”