Most recent American political coverage is centered on the lack of bipartisan cooperation. Partisanship and political animosity are at all-time high since 1992, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center study.
On June 14, 2017, the shooting perpetrated by James Hodgkinson at a baseball diamond in Alexandria, Virginia, was the ultimate manifestation of partisan extremism.
This tragedy occurred at a practice for the Congressional Baseball Game, putting conservative Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise in critical condition, and hospitalizing several members of the Capitol Police. Scalise, in fact, is the first sitting member of Congress to have been shot since former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in 2011.
With a tragic occurrence such as this one, I, and many others, assumed that the Congressional Baseball Game would be canceled or at least postponed. But no, the game went on as a way to say “This needs to happen now more than ever.”
So I went, decked out in American flag pants and my Cubs shirt — a dizzying amount of red, white and blue. After finding a seat in the general admission section and securing a “Go Democrats” foam finger, I watched Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi stand in front of one microphone and shout “Let’s play ball” in unison. Albeit with gritted teeth, but they did it.
Why did a shooting have to incite this conscious act of friendly bipartisan coexistence?
“Scalise Strong” signs peppered the stadium and David Bailey, a wounded member of the Capitol Police, threw out the first pitch of the game on crutches, greeted with an extended standing ovation.
The game’s ticket and merch sales raised a record-breaking $1.5 million for charity no doubt in part due to the shooting the day prior. Along with local organizations, some of the money this year also went to the United States Capitol Police.
I have written about this theme before, but this is my clearest case yet: baseball has the power to act as a unifier in times of strife and fear. (Though I won’t hesitate to boast that the final score was 11-2, Democrats.)
It’s hard not to draw modest comparisons between the monumental nature of that game and that of the New York Mets on September 21, 2001, their first game back in New York after the 9/11 attacks.
Down 2-1 going into the eighth inning, the New Yorkers in stands needed something to get them off their feet.
Mike Piazza’s home run at the bottom of the eighth to lead the Mets to a 3-2 victory has been described as heroic. Uniformed firefighters and policemen in the audience had something to smile about. Families who had recently lost parents cheered, if only for a minute.
I was just four years old in 2001, but my mom, a huge baseball fan, describes the game as the first return to normal activities after the nation’s shock from the gruesome terrorist attacks.
The Mets’ manager at the time, Bobby Valentine, said it even better: “It was so much bigger than anything I had ever been part of before that it was just inevitable that something really special was happening.”
In both of these situations, baseball served as therapy for an American people that had been shaken by a catastrophe.
The stadiums, players, announcers and general morale are such a taken for granted factor of baseball culture that it sometimes takes a collective hardship to put its healing power back into perspective. Because for so many, baseball represents the norm, with the chance to watch your team play almost daily during the spring and summer months.
And though baseball alone won’t be responsible for healing the deep wound of partisan divide, the Congressional Baseball Game should be a sign that collaboration is possible — all is not lost.
Lucy Schaefer covers men’s swimming. Contact her at [email protected]