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After D.C. attack, Washington state politicians recall congressional unity at ballgames

Jun 15, 2017
In The News

“I’ll never forget it,” Gov. Jay Inslee said.

He was remembering another day of congressional baseball — one that was historic in a far different way than the Wednesday practice marred by the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise.

In the 1993 Congressional Baseball Game, Inslee remembered, Maria Cantwell became the first woman in such a game to get to base. Then a congresswoman, now a senator, the Democrat walked in the third inning and wore a Seattle Mariners jersey and shorts because her team didn’t have pants that were small enough, according to Time magazine.

Women had never participated in the congressional activity before.

Cantwell, in a Wednesday interview, said she had been asked on the campaign trail whether she would help bring women into the game. The former high-school softball player said she would, not quite realizing what she was getting herself into.

“I didn’t realize we were talking about baseball,” she said. “I thought we were talking about softball.”

Some friends who were baseball enthusiasts took her to a Mountlake Terrace field. “They tried to get me ready for the big game,” she said.

It was about camaraderie and fun, but people took it seriously, she noted. Early morning practices were required.

An annual fundraising event for charity, the Congressional Baseball Game has happened since 1909. There are two teams, divided, naturally, along party lines. The Republicans were practicing early Wednesday morning in preparation for a Thursday game in Nationals Park.

But partisanship, unlike everywhere else these days, is low-key.

“It’s a great event,” said Inslee, a Democrat, who served multiple terms in Congress before resigning in 2012 to run for governor. “People across the aisle get to have a friendly competition, spend time together and relax.”

And Washington’s delegation has traditionally shown up in force.

“Brian Baird was a really, really strong hitter,” Inslee said of the former congressman.

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, was voted the Democrats’ most valuable player in 2002 and continued to stand out for years afterward.

“He could hit ’em where they ain’t,” Inslee said, using an old baseball expression to convey Smith’s talent for knocking balls so far that nobody could catch them.

A 2013 Roll Call story spotlighted Smith’s playing record, noting the Democrat was called “Adam Bomb” by his cheering staff. Smith told the Capitol Hill publication that the game was a bonding experience for congress members normally too busy to get to know each other.

He is not playing this year because of a succession of hip surgeries, according to a spokeswoman.

Wednesday’s as-yet-unexplained shooting cast a pall over the game, and Inslee turned sad after recounting fond memories. It was a reminder of gun violence in neighborhoods and schools, not just a congressional playing field, he said.

“I am praying for everyone,” said Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, who was not at the practice, in a statement. “During times of heightened political tensions, it is important that as Americans we do not separate ourselves by party identity, but come together as one American family.”

Rep. Denny Heck, a Democrat from Olympia, echoed the sentiment.

“An attack on them is an attack on all of us and everything it means to be American,” he said in a statement.