WASHINGTON — Capitol Hill Democrats have a 3-2 lead in the 2017 Congressional Baseball Game, an annual tradition that has taken on renewed importance in the wake of Wednesday’s shooting in Alexandria, Virginia.
One day after a gunman opened fire at a Republican congressional baseball practice, shooting House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and three others, lawmakers are on the field Thursday evening at Nationals Park in Washington.
The annual Congressional Baseball Game pits Republicans against Democrats, but this year the focus has turned to showing unity in the wake of the shooting. Interest in the charity baseball game has skyrocketed in the aftermath of the shooting, as staffers and lawmakers look to rally around Scalise and the three others who were shot: a congressional staffer, a lobbyist and a Capitol Police special agent.
Pushing that message of unity were the House leaders Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who told CNN’s Jake Tapper that despite party affiliation they were both on “Team Scalise.”
Former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre presented the game ball to Capitol Police special agent David Bailey, who came out on the field on crutches after being injured in Wednesday’s shooting, to throw out the first pitch to huge applause.
President Donald Trump sent a video message to the game, highlighting Scalise who remains in critical condition on Thursday after several surgeries.
“By playing tonight, you are showing the world that we will not be intimidated by threats, acts of violence, or assaults on our democracy,” Trump said. “The game will go on.”
The bipartisan spirit was present on and around the field before the game. Trump’s daughter Ivanka was spotted at the game near Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Trump advisers Gary Cohn and Kellyanne Conway spoke to Democrats in their dugout. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was seen hugging Trump-appointed Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.
More than $1 million has been raised for Congressional Sports for Charity, and more than 20,000 tickets have been sold for the game, the organizers wrote on Facebook Thursday afternoon.
Ivanka Trump, joined by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and her two eldest children Arabella and Joseph Kushner, presented a $50,000 check from “Friends in the Trump Administration” to “Congressional Sports for Charity.”
The Washington Nationals released additional seating in Nats Park to accommodate the demand.
The game raised about $500,000 for charity last year, according to spokeswoman Meredith Raimondi.
Instead of wearing hats representing their home teams, as is the normal tradition, players on both teams will be wearing Louisiana State University hats in honor of Scalise, a Louisiana Republican.
The mood at the Capitol remained somber Thursday, as members learned more about Scalise’s condition and signed giant “get well” posters for him and others injured.
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who was at Wednesday’s practice and gave medical help after the shooting, said it would have “been awful” if the game had been canceled, and said Scalise would want it to go on.
“I hope he’s in good enough shape to watch, because he’ll certainly feel good about what he sees,” Flake said. “I was there at the hospital last night, and I hope he’s doing better today. It’s a long road for him.”
Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond is the Democrats’ star pitcher, and a close friend of Scalise’s. The two have enjoyed a long-running ribbing over the game, which Republicans won last year to break a seven-year Democratic win streak.
“I’ll miss the banter with him back and forth, but I’m sure there’s some substitutes over there I can go pick a fight with,” Richmond told reporters. “It’ll be a different game without him there.”
Richmond said he assumes he will be Thursday night’s starting pitcher for the Democrats, and the former college baseball player is likely to make Democrats the favorite tonight.
But Flake said the final score wasn’t likely to matter this year.
“As far as winning and losing, I think that’s far from anybody’s mind right now,” Flake said.