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Play ball: After shootings, Republicans, Democrats unite in bipartisan baseball game tradition

June 16, 2017 GMT

WASHINGTON — The Congressional Baseball Game on Thursday night had all the features of games past.

For the annual competition pitting Republicans against Democrats for charity, staffers still packed the bleachers of Nationals Stadium wearing shirts with their bosses’ names on them.

Lawmakers in casual clothing sat in the stands to cheer on their colleagues. And there were peanuts, Cracker Jacks and overpriced beers for all.

But the event took on a more somber, even defiant, tone this year, one day after a gunman opened fire on the Republican team’s practice just outside the District of Columbia. Five people were injured, including second baseman and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who is still in critical condition.

Hours after the incident, ticket sales skyrocketed. Organizers estimate raising more than $1 million and attracting record attendance, up to 25,000 people by some counts.

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“This is how Americans respond to acts of violence and intimidation,” U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., wrote on Facebook.

Duncan, of Laurens, who plays shortstop on the team, stepped onto the field Thursday night with a sense of purpose. Not lost on him was that he left the GOP team’s practice Wednesday morning just as the shooter was arriving, in enough time to tell the gunmen the Republican team was out in the park but missing, by minutes, the horrifying episode that followed.

The game began with a bipartisan prayer out by third base. There was a moment of silence for the victims of the shooting, a hush falling over the crowd. President Donald Trump delivered a message via video. Wounded Capitol Police officer David Bailey limped onto the pitcher’s mound in crutches to throw the first pitch.

Republicans and Democrats still cheered for their own, but there was a feeling they all were in it together.

With Scalise still recovering on Thursday night, Republicans took turns covering second base. Duncan took the first shift and managed to get a Democrat out in the first inning.

His staff sat a few rows up behind first base in “Duncan for Congress” T-shirts, enthusiastically cheering for their congressman and all of the congressman’s friends, including U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., who carpools with Duncan to and from ball practice.

Duncan is currently the only South Carolina lawmaker on the team. Mick Mulvaney, previously a Rock Hill Republican congressman until being tapped as White House budget chief, couldn’t technically play on the team as he once had. He was, however, able to return to help coach his colleagues from the dugout. He wore a Louisiana state University shirt and hat in honor of Scalise.

Most other players also wore LSU gear as a tribute to the Majority Whip, who has played on the congressional team for years and is known for his high spirits. Duncan wore an LSU cap with his jersey from Erskine College, a school in his 3rd Congressional District.

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Other South Carolina lawmakers were also on hand for the game. U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the South Carolina delegation’s lone Democrat, said he always attended. His close friend, U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., is the Democratic team’s star player.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach, rearranged his schedule to attend the event, feeling compelled to show support after the shooting. U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Aiken, came with his staff.

U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Mount Pleasant, took his summer interns, which he says is a yearly tradition.

“It’s a fun event,” he said.

Democrats won, 11-2.