Congressional Baseball Game: After Scalise Shooting, David Bailey and the Capitol Police Are the Stars of the Night

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Patrick Conroy, chaplain of the House of Representatives, leads Democrats and Republicans in prayer before they face off in the annual Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. Joshua Roberts/REUTERS

His opening pitch skipped in the dirt before it reached home plate. It didn't matter. David Bailey was unquestionably the star of the 2017 Congressional Baseball Game, played in the shadow of Wednesday's shooting at a Republican team practice that left Louisiana Republican Representative Steve Scalise in critical condition. Bailey, a U.S. Capitol policeman on the scene who exchanged fire with the shooter, was also injured in the melee.

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On Thursday evening, Bailey hobbled across the infield of Nationals Park on crutches, his foot in a boot, the Foo Fighters song "There Goes My Hero" blasting over the loudspeakers. Former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre greeted him on the pitcher's mound with a baseball and a hug. Bailey then threw out the first pitch, which was caught by another Major League Baseball legend, Roberto Clemente. The crowd went wild.

The game's organizers also paid tribute to Scalise, the House majority whip who remains in the hospital after being shot in the hip. "The bullet traveled across his pelvis, fracturing bones, injuring internal organs, and causing severe bleeding," according to a statement Scalise's office released by MedStar Washington Hospital Center. The shooter, James Hodgkinson, a onetime Bernie Sanders volunteer, was killed in the ensuing firefight with police. A number of "Scalise strong" signs could be spotted in the crowd. But those in attendance saved their biggest applause for Bailey and his colleagues on the Capitol Police force.

President Donald Trump singled out Bailey and fellow Capitol policewoman Crystal Griner, who was shot in the ankle, in taped remarks that played on the jumbotron before the game, thanking them for savings lives. The game's announcer also acknowledged their heroism in a message from sponsor AT&T. Each time, people in the stands roared. And the game itself, which drew record attendance, according to C-SPAN, raised more than $1 million for charity, including the Capitol Police Memorial Fund, which was added to the list of beneficiaries after the shooting. "Everybody probably would have died except for the fact that the Capitol Hill police were there, and the only reason they were there is because we had a member of leadership on our team," Kentucky Senator Rand Paul told MSNBC.

After the shooting, members of Congress of both parties promised to emphasize bipartisanship at Thursday night's game, a cherished Capitol Hill tradition (the Democrats won 11 to 2). House leaders Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi and Senate leaders Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer opened the game together, shouting "Play ball!" in yellow LSU garb to honor Scalise.

But there were few signs that bipartisanship will last—and plenty of reminders of the intense political divisions that continue to tear at the country. In one section of the ballpark, a young woman sported a "Hillary for prison" T-shirt, a holdover from the nasty 2016 presidential campaign that pitted Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, against Trump. A few rows up, a large group of people wore matching bright orange shirts representing the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The Brady Campaign, which supports gun control laws, promptly issued a statement condemning this latest shooting, saying, "All Americans, including our elected leaders, should live in an environment where they can pursue every day [sic] activities without fear of being shot."

Gun control proposals, however, are unlikely to move in the Republican-controlled Congress. The fire breathing that is stock fare for cable news and talk radio and the outrage advocacy groups use to rev up their supporters are not going to die down. Commentators were already pointing fingers Thursday about who's to blame for the country's toxic political atmosphere.

In this environment, the risks facing public figures, including members of Congress, are likely to continue to rise. The Capitol Police, tasked with protecting members of Congress, employees, visitors and congressional buildings, are already kept busy manning the many offices and VIPs on the Capitol grounds.

But their integral role in stopping what Paul said could otherwise have been a "massacre" is bound to raise questions about whether all lawmakers ought to have security. Scalise is the second sitting member of Congress shot and seriously wounded this decade—Gabby Giffords was shot in the head outside of a Tucson, Arizona, supermarket in 2011 and miraculously survived.

It's not surprising, then, that both sides of the political divide can cheer the police force putting their own lives on the line for our political leaders' safety, something that seems to be in greater jeopardy than ever.