After a year off, the ballplayers in the Congressional Baseball Game looked as sharp as ever, which is to say not very.
But to the well-lubricated partisan fans — Republicans down the first base line, Democrats along third — the action was as thrilling as any big league at-bat or late-night floor negotiation. For every dribbler into the outfield, for every dropped pop fly, and for every run scored off a wild throw, they shouted, they cheered and — naturally — they booed.
Republicans and Democrats squared off at the game Wednesday night, as they have nearly every year since 1909 (last year being the rare, pandemic-caused exception). The ticket sales, concessions and sponsors raised $1.2 million for a handful of local charities, including the Washington Literacy Center and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.
This year’s matchup, delayed until late September due to COVID-19 and the Washington Nationals schedule, comes at a tense time on the Hill. Members of Congress took the night before the fiscal year’s end to play catch. Instead of passing laws, they chased passed balls.
As Nats staff prepped the field and opened the concourses for the game, both the House and Senate continued to hold votes. Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, a late addition to the Republican squad not listed on the official roster, cast her vote on Robert T. Anderson’s nomination for Interior Department solicitor while wearing her red uniform.
The game interrupted negotiations on averting a government shutdown and avoiding a default on the nation’s debt, plus intraparty talks among Democrats on a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. A few GOP members were already warming up in the outfield as the House began a vote to suspend the debt limit until December 2022.
Back at the Capitol, before that vote, reporters asked House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn where things stood in all the talks. “I’ll find out at the baseball game,” he said.
As the crowd began to fill the stands, Republican players arrived in force, using the same gate in centerfield and only reaching the field after walking past rows of seats. Democrats began to trickle in shortly after.
As they’ve been on the reconciliation bill, so members were clad on the field — Republicans united in custom red unis while Democrats sported a motley mix of replica jerseys representing their hometown teams.
During the team introductions, controversial Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia had her name announced but did not appear present. Some in the crowd booed her nonetheless. Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, who was shot at a practice for the game in 2017, received the largest applause.
President Joe Biden showed up in the middle of the second inning, to huge applause from the Democratic side and more than a few boos from the Republican fans, spending a few minutes glad-handing in front of the Democrats’ dugout. He was escorted onto the field by the running presidents, massive-headed mascots who race around Nats Park to entertain fans in between innings.
Biden walked over to the GOP dugout after the third inning, earning a fresh set of boos from Republican spectators for the effort.
Before the game, Biden was one of four former players inducted into the Congressional Baseball Hall of Fame, alongside his senior adviser Cedric Richmond, former Rep. John Shimkus and the late President George H. W. Bush. Biden’s granddaughter accepted that honor on his behalf.
Before he left Congress to work in the White House, Richmond helped Democrats dominate the baseball game in recent years as a standout pitcher. His departure gave Republicans reason to hope they could break the streak.
The game itself was a hard fought, back-and-forth match up, with the two caucuses trading leads throughout the night. Democrats lept out to an early lead at the top of the first, scoring three runs, with Rep. Jimmy Panetta of California scoring two on a triple. But Republicans responded quickly, bringing in five thanks in large part to a pair of fielding errors, including one that gave Rep. Blake D. Moore of Utah an inside-the-park home run.
Republicans ended the second inning early, and runless, after Rep. William R. Timmons IV of South Carolina got tagged out in a collision at the plate.
Dems regained the lead in the third, thanks again to a triple from Panetta and more errors. But Rep. Greg Steube of Florida opened the bottom with a solo shot home run to left field — the first in over a decade, per FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich — and again more errors let in more runs.
In the end, Republicans took home the trophy, topping the Democrats, 13-12.
The mostly middle-aged and geriatric squads didn’t make it through the game unscathed. Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Washington pulled his quad reaching first on a fielding error.
Jennifer Shutt and Chris Cioffi contributed to this report.