With a crowd rivaling those at some Washington Nationals home games, members of Congress faced off in a partisan showdown Thursday evening that took on a new meaning after the shooting a day earlier in a nearby Virginia suburb.
Instead of simply breaking the tie between the Democratic and Republican congressional baseball teams — each had 39 wins over the course of the annual charity game — the fight on the baseball diamond at Nationals Park also reflected a bit of relief from the fear and anxiety sparked by the shooting.
"I think everybody feels pretty lucky to be out here tonight doing this," said U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan, a relief pitcher and Republican from Delaware County who was absent from Wednesday's practice, where House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, two Capitol Police officers and two others were injured in the gunfire.
But before the game began, both teams gathered at second base for a group prayer. When the Democratic players were introduced, they didn't line up separately but instead intermingled with the Republican lineup. Some could be seen patting the opposite side's players on the back, just as they did in the hallway after word of Wednesday's shooting spread.
Both sides of the crowd roared in appreciation when a photo of Scalise, who had additional surgery Thursday to repair damage from the bullet that hit his hip, was shown on the scoreboard. And players in both dugouts donned yellow Louisiana State University hats in honor of Scalise's home state.
For U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, a Chester County Republican whose son, Ryan Jr., joined him on the field before the game, going forward with the game brought mixed emotions. Costello intended to go to practice Wednesday, but missed his ride.
"Some of the innocence, some of the fun has been taken out of it," Costello told reporters beforehand.
Still he said the event was in part about setting an example and showing that Republicans and Democrats can disagree while still respecting each other.
"Sometimes it's easier to demonstrate that playing a baseball game than it is litigating against one another on the House floor," Costello said.
He appeared to find some enjoyment as the GOP's leadoff hitter. The 40-year-old Costello, wearing a Reading Fightin's jersey, not only slid in to steal second base, but hit the dirt again across home plate to tally the Republicans' first run.
The shooting brought a spotlight to the charity game, which is popular among lawmakers as a way to get to know each other away from the pressures of the Capitol. Nearly 25,000 tickets were sold, and organizers expected the proceeds to top $1 million, easily exceeding the $650,000 that had been expected.
In addition to the annual beneficiaries, the event also will benefit the Capitol Police Memorial Fund in honor of the officers who responded to Wednesday's shooting.
Off the field, some legislators — such as Bucks County Republican Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick and Democratic U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans — made a point of sitting with a lawmaker from the opposite party.
The two men from southeastern Pennsylvania snagged third-row seats near first base, where they reflected on the shock they felt when each of them learned of the shooting Wednesday morning — and ducked at least one high-velocity foul ball that whizzed over their heads.
Evans and Fitzpatrick, both freshmen legislators, said they've been friends since being sworn in. The attack didn't change what they've tried to focus on, Fitzpatrick said: building relationships with their colleagues as human beings.
"Work comes a lot better and is a lot more effective when you care about the people you're working with, even though you may disagree with them," Fitzpatrick said.
"I totally agree with that," Evans added, noting that he and Fitzpatrick have teamed up at events in other districts, trying to get to know not only their colleagues but other Pennsylvania constituents.
The unity ended when it came to the scoreboard. The Democrats won handily, 11-2.
But in a final gesture, Democratic manager and U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle of Pittsburgh offered the trophy to the Republicans, telling them to place it in Scalise's office while he recovers.