WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans and Democrats put aside the sectarian hostilities that have increasingly defined this town and came together on the baseball diamond Thursday, a year after bullets from a would-be mass assassin shook Congress to its core.
Democrats prevailed 21-5 in the 57th Congressional Baseball Game for Charity at Nationals Park. But the night belonged to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and all who hailed his return after he was shot during a team practice last spring in suburban Virginia.
The Louisiana Republican suffered life threatening injuries and has endured lengthy hospitalizations, multiple surgeries and painful rehabilitation. Months removed from struggling to walk, Scalise was honored before the game and started at second base for Republicans, fielding a ground ball and completing the put-out to first on the game's first play.
"It's been a long road to this day," Scalise wrote on Twitter earlier in a day filled with media interviews, accolades and a Capitol Hill blood drive to commemorate the donations he received a year ago.
Scalise wore a Capitol Police cap to honor officers who worked the shooting last year, injuring gunman James Hodgkinson, who later died. Hodgkinson's social media posts prior to the shooting suggest he targeted the Republican baseball team because of his political views.
Giving no mention to Hodgkinson, Scalise pronounced himself "grateful for the support and prayers" Thursday and added, "Let's play some baseball."
The House whip's comeback was enough to leave Francis Kelly bursting with pride in the centerfield seats. "It's just being an American — terror should not scare us," the 41-year-old graphic designer said, sporting a necktie emblazoned with stars and stripes.
Still, the outpouring for Scalise obscured the daily realities of a capital city still bitterly divided on nearly every major policy debate, including how to regulate the weapons like those wielded on Scalise and his fellow Republicans a year ago in Alexandria, Virginia.
Scalise and other Republican team members said leading up to the game that he's fine with where Congress is on gun laws, including after mass school shootings that have frequented headlines since last year's near disaster.
There also were symbols of the so-called swamp that President Donald Trump and so many of the players have promised to drain. The game is a charity fundraiser, but the spectacle still involves private, guest-list parties, sponsored by corporate behemoths in the ballpark's exclusive corners.
On the field, any victory Scalise celebrated had to come vicariously through his long friendship with fellow Louisiana congressman Cedric Richmond. The former collegiate baseball player again starred on the mound and at the plate for the Democratic team, including a three-run, inside-the-park homerun.
The 2018 midterms loomed, as well. Many of the young staffers filling the stands wore the campaign shirts of their bosses whose fates in November will determine whether Republicans maintain their House and Senate majorities.
And, in the year of the #metoo movement, when record numbers of female candidates are running for Congress, California Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragan, a Democrat, and Utah Rep. Mia Love, a Republican, reached base and patrolled second base alongside the men that still dominate a Congress that is about four-fifths male.
"I grew up playing Tee-Ball & Little League & in high school I petitioned the principal to let me play baseball with the boys," Barragan wrote on Twitter before the game, punctuating her remarks with #YesSheCan.
The baseball matchup, first played in 1909, typically raises hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for Washington-area charities. Last year, the game raised $1.5 million.
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