Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) may have said it best: how ironic – or perhaps appropriate – that in the poisonous political atmosphere which has enveloped the nation’s politics these days, the shooting of a politician occurs at a warm-up for one of the only truly bipartisan events still on the calendar in Washington, DC.
Unbeknownst to most Americans, Republicans and Democrats have gotten together on the baseball diamond 79 times for the Congressional Baseball Game since its inception in 1909. And after Republicans broke a seven-year losing streak with a victory in 2016, the teams have now each won 39 games, with one ending in a tie.
This year’s game is scheduled for Thursday evening at the same venue as the last eight years – Nationals Park, home of MLB’s Washington Nationals. Despite the shooting at Wednesday morning’s practice, sentiment on Capitol Hill appears to be running strongly in favor of playing the game as scheduled.
And as evidenced by today’s fateful practice which began in the early morning, members of Congress take this game very seriously. Many practices are scheduled by both squads in advance to the event.
Further evidence of this being more than just a casual beer league-style event came clear to me personally when I had the privilege of calling the radio play-by-play for the game on the Armed Forces Radio Network in 2010. The event, which raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington, attracted several thousand fans and featured some members of Congress who displayed surprising talent. However, the greatest potential weapon for the GOP, Hall of Fame pitcher and then-Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY), would not participate.
The players expressed their personal rooting interests by wearing jerseys of their choice – ranging from their high school to their favorite major league team. The game was memorialized in a music video, and in this headline: The 2010 Congressional Baseball Game, Starring Older Gentlemen In Ill-Fitting Jerseys And Pitching Miscues.
Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who was present at today’s practice when the shooting commenced, said in advance of that 2010 game, “We can take the Democrats being in control of the house, but not the baseball diamond. So, this means a lot. This is a competitive game, and we’re ready to take it back.”
A sense of bipartisanship, cheer – and loyal opposition – has always been a hallmark of this annual affair – Republicans and Democrats battling until the end and then shaking hands. Perhaps, just perhaps, Wednesday’s horrifying turn of events can contribute to turning the politically toxic atmosphere into what was envisioned all the way back to the formation of the US Constitution: loyal opposition.