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WASHINGTON — A day after firing on an active shooter to protect congressmen under attack at a morning baseball practice in Virginia, Capitol Police officer David Bailey returned to the diamond for the annual charity game.
Bailey, who suffered a minor injury in the attack, surprised a roaring crowd of almost 25,000 spectators in Nationals Park by hobbling on crutches to the pitcher's mound to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the 80th Congressional Baseball Game for Charity.
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Moments before, Bailey stood in the middle of Democratic and Republican players who each took turns hugging him tightly and thanking him for protecting one of their own, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana. Scalise was shot in the hip during the Wednesday morning shooting. After undergoing three surgeries, Scalise remained in critical condition at a nearby hospital in D.C.
"I could tell it meant a lot to [Bailey] and for me it was the highlight of my night," Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pennsylvania, said.
With 39 wins each for the Democratic and Republican teams and a tied game between them, the focus of Thursday evening's baseball game was supposed to be on who would finally break the partisan tie.
But the focus shifted after Scalise and four others were injured Wednesday when a gunman fired on the GOP congressional baseball team's early morning practice in Alexandria, Virginia.
The gunman, James T. Hodgkinson, 66, was shot by police and later died of his wounds.
In the past, the game was canceled due to The Great Depression, World War II, and a House speaker’s presumption that baseball is just too rough. However, members said the shooting served as the best motivator for both parties to come together and play ball.
"It would've been awful to have what happened yesterday, which was bad enough, and not to be able to get together with your colleagues and do this," Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona., said.
By Thursday evening’s first pitch, organizers had sold close to 25,000 tickets and sponsorship doubled overnight, according to the game’s organizer Meredith Raimondi.
The game raised more than $1.5 million for the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington, Washington Literacy Center, the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation and the Capitol Police Memorial Fund in honor of those injured in the line of duty during Wednesday’s shooting.
Describing themselves as “much tougher” and “resilient” after the attack that united them in the way only survivors of mass shootings know too well, members separated themselves from yesterday’s tragedies and zoned in on the game.
“The thing about it is the game has always been so raw, so partisan, but in good nature though,” Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said earlier on Thursday. “We tease each other and we trash talk.”
On the field, it was back to normal partisanship, especially after the Democrat's most valuable player, Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-Louisiana, almost hit a home run.
Conaway said “it’s weird” that a game purposely driven by the enthusiasm of a divided fan base is driving a sense of unity, adding that he hopes it can continue off the field.
And it did. Members like Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, were spotted taking selfies. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, donned a Louisiana State University hat, while Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, wore the university's jersey in honor of Scalise's home team.
Scalise staffers wore blue "Team Scalise" shirts and waved a number of signs for their boss. One notably read, "Don't Stop Scalisin."
Jack Barton, Rep. Joe Barton's 10-year-old son, who hid under a car to avoid bullets during the shootout, was seen running into the field to pick up foul balls.
The Democrats' bats overpowered the Republicans, 11-2, to broke the 39-39 series tie.
Though they won the trophy, Democratic manager Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pennsylvania, gave their opponents the winning prize so it could remain in Scalise's office.
Barton, a Republican from Texas and the team's manager, accepted the trophy and then joked that his players "wouldn't be this nice next year."
Politics aside, the members agreed that, regardless of game play, the country is better off when the nation is united.
“Somebody asked me ‘who do you think is going to win tonight?',” said Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, who witnessed yesterday’s shooting. “I said America.”
CORRECTION (June 16, 12:09 pm) An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the hospital where Rep. Steve Scalise was transported after he was shot. He was taken to MedStar Washington Hospital Center in the District of Columbia, not to a hospital in Virginia.