WASHINGTON (AP) – Republicans and Democrats fought for bragging rights Thursday in the annual Congressional Baseball game, all counting themselves as one unit – Team Scalise.
The opposing sides were paying tribute to Rep. Steve Scalise, the House majority whip who was critically wounded when a gunman opened fire at a Republican baseball practice in Virginia on Wednesday. Scalise was fielding balls at second base when he was hit in the hip, and sustained grievous injuries as the bullet traveled through his pelvis and injured internal organs.
Many of the players wore Louisiana State University hats in honor of Scalise, a graduate of the school, as they gathered at Nationals Park.
“Tonight we will go to the game, play our hardest, but we will all be Team Scalise,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters.
The game, which dates to 1909 and is a summertime tradition on Capitol Hill, is a rare example of bipartisanship in an increasingly polarized Washington. Aging former 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.
“Baseball is the American game, to be able to play it, and that’s why we have to play this game tonight,” said Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, who injured his ankle in the chaos Wednesday and will watch from the third-base coaching box. “It’s bipartisan, it’s a charity, for crying out loud, it’s in Washington D.C., we’ll be able to honor Scalise and those others who have hurt.”
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 Robert D. Manfred, Jr., 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.