“It will be ‘play ball’ tomorrow night at 7:05 p.m.,” declared Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas.
He was echoed by a colleague who said “the game will go on” after Republican lawmakers practicing Wednesday morning for the annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity were shot at by a man who apparently was a fierce opponent of Donald Trump and a volunteer for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.
The attack by James T. Hodgkinson seriously injured House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, two U.S. Capitol Police officers, a congressional aide and a lobbyist before the assailant was killed. If not for the Capitol Police security detail accompanying Scalise, a horrendous massacre could have unfolded, according to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a member of the Republican team who was at the practice at a park in Alexandria, Virginia.
Nevertheless, the game, which began as a casual event in 1909 and has turned into a fundraiser that has brought millions of dollars to local charities, will take place Thursday night at Nationals Park in the nation’s capital, the home of the Washington Nationals Major League team.
The first Congressional Baseball Game was organized by Rep. John Tener, R-Pa., a former professional baseball player. The Boston Daily Globe said at the time the game was “brewing for weeks and the members of the house were keyed up a high pitch of enthusiasm.” The Democrats prevailed, 26-16.
War, the Great Depression and other circumstances caused cancellation of the game from time to time over the past century. The official website for the game has the all-time series knotted at 39 wins, 39 losses and one tie. The Republicans won last year 8-7, breaking a seven-year Democrat winning streak.
Thursday night’s game, expected to draw a much larger audience in response to the attack Wednesday, will be televised by C-SPAN.
The Congressional Sports for Charity asked, in an official statement, for prayers for the people injured at the practice.
“The Members of Congress, the staff and the volunteers who were out at practice this morning care deeply about the causes they play to benefit. We believe the best way to honor them is to play the game as scheduled tomorrow night,” the organization said.
“We also want to express our appreciation for the men and women who run toward danger especially the Capitol Police and Alexandria City Police – without their presence this morning it could have been even worse.”
In addition to its usual local beneficiaries, the Capitol Police Memorial Fund will be a recipient of the donations.
Facebook comments demonstrated a heightened interest in making donations, with some donors pledging to match the gifts of their Facebook friends.
One commenter said: “We can all copy the link to our FB page and hopefully raise awareness to DO something good after this horrible act! Let’s unite!”
The “donate” link on the Congressional Baseball Game website is not accessible, possibly due to extraordinary traffic.
‘If we don’t play … they win’
At a press conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, who was injured in the attack, was asked why the game will be played as scheduled.
“If we don’t play this baseball game and we go home, they win,” he said of people like the shooter Hodgkinson.
A reporter asked whether the attack would change security for lawmakers.
“I think we need to think about it,” he said, but he added that citizens “need to be able to talk to us.”
“It’s a dialogue we need to have,” Williams said regarding the level of security for Congress members. “But we want to be able to keep open government.”
Williams said he had no details about what security will be like at the game Thursday, but he said he had confidence in law-enforcement officials and personnel.
As news of the shooting broke, Democrats who were preparing to practice Wednesday morning gathered in prayer.
“Thoughts and prayers w my Republican baseball friends this morning,” tweeted Colorado Rep. Jared Polis. “Dem practice canceled holding in dugout w security.”
The Congressional Baseball Game website says that every year, “with a few interruptions, Senate and House members of each party team up to settle scores and solidify friendships off the floor and on the field.”
“Members usually sport the uniform of their home states and districts, and although proportional representation is not required, elected officials of many states play to win every year.”
Along with Scalise, Williams, and Sens. Rand Paul and Jeff Flake, the roster for the 2017 Republican team includes Rep. Kevin Brady of California, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.