These were grownups grabbing this chance to be kids again on Wednesday morning in Alexandria, Va., on a baseball field in a park at the 400 block of East Monroe Avenue. And anybody who has ever loved baseball, who remembers what it was like to be on a field like this, with friends, will tell you about the beauty of it all. For an hour, or two, it really is a way to be young again. It is not just about the beauty of the game, and the pull of the game. It is about the power of memory.
So Rep. Steve Scalise, the House majority whip out of Louisiana, third highest-ranking Republican member of the House of Representatives, had been taking some ground balls near second base. Sen. Rand Paul was in a batting cage in the outfield. There were other Republicans on this field a week before summer officially begins, in Washington, D.C., and everywhere else, all of them getting ready for an annual charity baseball game scheduled for the next night at Nationals Park, Republicans in Congress against the Democrats.
So they were in their caps, some of them were wearing baseball shirts with red sleeves, getting in one more practice before the big game, all of them trying to give themselves the best chance to look good on Thursday night, which is another way of saying they were giving themselves their very best chance not to look bad. Rep. Joe Barton, out of Texas, even had his 10-year-old son with him, the boy probably wondering what the big deal was, probably thinking that there would be hundreds of baseball days like this in his life, and what was special about this one?
Then the shooting started.
The shooting started across the Potomac River from where they work in Congress, and more than six years after a man named Jared Loughner put a bullet in the head of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords one Saturday morning in Tucson. Gabrielle Giffords lived through that. But the granddaughter of great old baseball man Dallas Green, named Christina Taylor-Green, a second baseman on a Little League team, did not survive. Christina was 9
Now the gunfire was in Alexandria, as the alleged shooter, a man out of Belleville, Ill., named James T. Hodgkinson, tried to turn a baseball field into a killing field. Now Scalise, hit, was on the ground and crawling out of the infield and into the outfield, even knowing there was no cover for him out there as the bullets were fired from one of the guns Hodgkinson had brought with him to the field.
Now the adults were trying to find cover for themselves, as they tried to make sure, according to the accounts of those there, that Barton's son was safe. Before long, this would be one of the headlines in the Washington Post above a story about the brief, terrible moments at the 400 block of East Monroe, where 10 American lawmakers or more could have been shot dead on a morning when they had just come out to play a little ball:
"GOP baseball shooting."
Scalise was shot in the hip and required surgery. As of Thursday, he was in critical condition and would require further surgery. The other shooting victims were taken to the hospital, too. Because he has the position he does in the House, Scalise is entitled to around-the-clock protection from Capitol Police. Two of them were there. So when Hodgkinson, who would die later in custody, started shooting, the police started shooting back.
It was a ballfield in Alexandria this time. This time members of Congress saw the tragic results of a gun in the wrong hands in America with their own eyes. They will all remember for the rest of their lives the sight of the House majority whip crawling into the outfield as a way of trying to save his own life.
"An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us," said the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, who would give a speech to his colleagues later that included this line: "We are united in our shock. We are united in our anguish. And an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us."
So is an attack on a child on the South Side of Chicago, and at Sandy Hook Elementary, an attack on all of us. But this time it was Rep. Steve Scalise taking a bullet where he stood near second base as the shooter was shooting at him from the third-base side of the field at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park.
One of the Congress members who left baseball practice early to beat the traffic from Alexandria to Washington, D.C., Ron DeSantis from Florida, would say later that a man he now believes was Hodgkinson approached his car and asked, "Are those Democrats or Republicans?"
They were Americans, is what they were. They were grown adults trying to be baseball kids again. Even later, when they were back at work, some of them were still wearing those shirts with the red sleeves. Mo Brooks, a Republican Congressman from Alabama who was reportedly one of the first to reach Scalise, was still wearing his batting glove. On a day when he had gone to play some ball with his buddies before work, another congressman, Brad Wenstrup, once a combat surgeon on Iraq, posted this on Twitter after he had attended to the injuries suffered by Steve Scalise:
"You never expect a baseball field in America to feel like being back in a combat zone in Iraq, but this morning it did."
It happened to them this time. It happened on a ballfield on the day before a big charity game they were all obviously so excited to play. It happened because it keeps happening in America. They had all come to the field to feel young, but this time they witnessed the kind of scene that keeps playing out over and over again, one that starts to feel as old in America as baseball.
The charity game will go on Thursday night, by the way, and will become more important than it ever would have been before Alexandria. The game will go on symbolically, and maybe defiantly and, hopefully, as a show of unity in a city more divided by partisan politics than ever before.
Of course it will take more than symbolism to solve this problem. But for one night, for a little while in a charity game, one that will feel more important than it was ever supposed to, we will not just see the power of memory in baseball, but its healing powers, as well. And maybe, just maybe, this is the shooting that will bring all the players in the game a little closer together. So all of them in Congress can do more to make the shooting stop.