Updated June 19, 2017, 1:58 p.m. | The final moments of the 56th annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park on Thursday perfectly demonstrated the event’s purpose — finding unity amid heated competition.
Though the Democrats overwhelmingly beat the Republicans 11-2, that final score was eclipsed during the trophy presentation at the end of the night.
The Democrats’ team manager Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania handed the coveted Roll Call Trophy over to GOP manager Joe L. Barton of Texas to honor House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who missed the game after he was shot in the hip by a gunman who targeted the Republican team at a practice in Alexandria, Virginia, on Wednesday.
Doyle wanted the award to be placed in the Louisiana congressman’s office until he returns to Congress.
“It was a tremendous gesture and it’s exactly what we needed,” said Alabama Republican Rep. Gary Palmer, one of Scalise’s teammates.
Freshman Rep. Nanette Barragán, a California Democrat, said Doyle didn’t ask for the team’s consent to hand over the trophy until later in the game when he was more certain of the outcome. “We didn’t want to jump the gun. Coach is very superstitious, didn’t want to take anything for granted,” Barragán said.
The game — and the gesture with the trophy — may have helped lift at least some of the cloud of dread following following Wednesday’s shooting. Minnesota Rep. Erik Paulsen, another GOP team member, said that nothing would have made the Scalise happier than to make sure the game took place.
“He’d give anything to be here. So we’ll be showing him the highlights later. And he’ll be back next year hopefully to turn things around for us,” Paulsen said after the game.
Neither the bitter partisanship that has defined Congress, nor even the shooting, seemed to deter the mood and revelry of the fans. An unexpectedly large crowd of nearly 25,000 turned up to root for Democrats and Republicans, and to have a good time.
They got to see a game.
Both teams started off with a bang, though by the third inning it was clear that the Democrats’ had gained the upper hand, especially with their starting pitcher, Rep. Cedric L. Richmond of Louisiana, who, after a slow start, dominated the game both offensively and defensively.
By then, Richmond quieted the GOP bats. Later, in the fifth inning, he hit the game’s only triple. Despite a few more hits Thursday night, the Republicans did not score another run after the first inning.
But the Democrats really put Team GOP on the ropes in the fifth inning as they exploded offensively. They also capitalized on some egregious Republican defensive errors.
Barton pulled his starting pitcher, Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, putting in Rep. Patrick Meehan as relief. But Meehan made a costly throwing error at first base which gave Democrats another run.
At this point in the fifth, Doyle added some crowd-pleasing flavor into the mix, sending the game’s only two female players to bat; Reps. Linda T. Sánchez of California — a Democratic stalwart — and Barragán. Sanchez walked and later scored a run while Barragán singled and also scored.
“That was pretty neat,” Barragán said after the game. “I can’t wait to get back home and tell my mom about it, who will be so proud.”
By the end of the fifth, Meehan was clearly out of gas and the Democrats had put a cap on the game with their 11-2 lead.
But that final score didn’t seem to matter much to many of the players, staffers and fans as they departed Nationals Park. Even the weather seemed to join in, turning the usual D.C. swamp-like humidity into a balmy and relaxing evening.
In the face of division and tragedy, they’d proved they could all come together as one.
Griffin Connolly and Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.