One year removed from a devastating shooting at a Republican baseball practice, the mood at the Congressional Baseball Game was decisively less somber than it had been the year before.
One year before, representatives and senators—regardless of party— gathered on the field together to pray for Steve Scalise, injured in a shooting that injured six others as well, and nearly killed Scalise—whose life was in jeopardy with a bullet in his hip.
Last night was somewhat of a contrast: representatives and senators across party lines expressed gratitude and thankfulness—that Scalise was still around; that the game could go on unchanged for the most part—a level of unity that, if history serves as any example, won’t last for long.
“Last year was so strange,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT).
“I was glad that we played the game, but obviously there was a real pall over this place... to have Steve here, I think it’ll lift everyone up.”
“Steve’s back, which is great, and I think we’ve had a good time with him the last week or so just kind of messing around,” said Democratic representative Tim Ryan (OH-13).
“It’s a special game,” Republican representative Ken Buck (CO-04) said. “Steve... is a courageous person and really an inspiration for all of us.”
“I think it sends an important message to America that even if there are maybe tragedies, we aren’t gonna be limited in any way by those tragedies.”
Ultimately, the event will likely never be the same in terms of being just a baseball game, and will instead evoke different memories and feelings — a phenomenon that Rep. Ryan Costello (R, PA-06) spoke to.
“The scare and the surrealness of last year is largely washed off, but it’s something we’ll all always stick in all of our heads,” he said.
“Last year was a very unique year, I don’t think we’ll ever have another one like it — I hope that we don’t have another one like it. It was a real coming together,” said Ryan.
Granted, a level of competitiveness still runs through both teams — and even if the game isn’t as much of a happy-go-lucky spectacle as it was before, Costello still noted that the players dedicated considerable focus to the game.
“I think there’s not a lot of relevance to this game, but we impute a lot importance to it, because there’s pride and we all get to pretend like we’re fifteen years old again.”
It’s also irrefutable that the game has gathered more attention in the past two years than it had previously — cameras from national news outlets circulated through the stadium as big names—both in politics and in baseball—roamed the sections behind home plate.
Aside from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, former Nationals outfielder Jayson Werth was also on hand.
Werth stood on the mound as members of the Capitol Police who were present for the shooting threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
“I’m just happy to be back at Nats Park,” Werth said.
When asked about the significance of the game, the lanky, long-haired outfielder responded with a classically Werth-ian response that proved true.
“One team’s gonna win, and one team’s gonna lose.”
Despite whatever feelings of unity that may have lingered between the teams, the atmosphere in the crowd was decisively different from the year before — a much more solemn affair.
The Democratic side of the crowd started the wave, a subtle reference—according to a few fans—to what they hoped would be an oncoming “Blue Wave” of new Democratic representatives elected this fall.
It was a difficult reminder that despite the bi-partisanship of the game, nearly everyone’s position on their respective team was in jeopardy come fall.
However, Ryan noted that both the game and Scalise overshadowed whatever political implications the fans had in mind.
“I don’t think anyone’s thinking about the midterms tonight.”