WASHINGTON — With emotions, interest, and symbolism high, congressional lawmakers took to the baseball diamond Thursday night for a game normally meant for fun, but now suffused with meaning.
One day after Republicans practicing in Alexandria, Va., for the annual charity event were attacked by a gunman, those playing and watching felt unified and weary, defiant and drained, still grappling with what had happened.
"It's tougher," Republican Rep. Pat Meehan of Delaware County said before the game. "People are having an opportunity to really have gotten past the adrenaline and to have spent some time considering what actually happened."
More than 24 hours later, he said, those feelings "have settled."
On the field at Nationals Park, emotions were stirred early as Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre presented the game ball to David Bailey, one of the two Capitol Police officers injured Wednesday while firing back against the shooter.
Still on crutches, Bailey threw out the ceremonial first pitch to loud cheers. Both teams, Democrats and Republicans, knelt together in prayer before the game.
Ticket sales spiked after the shooting — to 24,959, a record.
President Trump appeared on the stadium big screen with a recorded message.
"Tonight's game has taken on a much deeper level of meaning," he said. "By playing tonight you are showing the world that we will not be intimidated by threats, acts of violence, or assaults."
But while Republican Rep. Ryan Costello of Chester County said he was glad they played, he also said it was "tough." Before and after the game, his mind drifted to the people injured. In the dugout, fellow Republicans were still talking over where they were when the shots rang out.
"It was fun, but it wasn't as innocent of fun that it was the past two years," Costello, who played at shortstop for the Republicans, said after the game. "There was a serious overtone to it, and our hearts and our heads were somewhere else."
They played on a warm, clear night amid a lull in the normal political rancor. The players wore jerseys of pro, college or minor league teams in their home states, topped off with Capitol Police hats or Louisiana State University caps, the latter to honor Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Louisianian shot in the hip and in critical condition Thursday.
"Knowing Steve, playing the game, keeping the game on schedule is something he would have wanted," said Garrett Graves, a fellow Louisiana Republican. Graves wore a purple shirt with the word #unBRoken on the chest. It was made after last year's shooting of six Baton Rouge police officers, but Graves said "it couldn't be more applicable to I think what we're all facing right now."
During the game, the hospital treating Scalise announced that his condition was improving.
Earlier, lawmakers at the Capitol said that in their meeting rooms and on the House floor they saw renewed warmth.
"You know who the guys are from the other [baseball] team, and when you see them in the hallways it's just kind of a very special kind of wink or a nod or a pat on the back," said Meehan, who pitches for the GOP team. "I can't tell you how many have come up and had a nice word or 'How are you doing?'"
He wrestled with the question of what might have been. He wasn't at practice Wednesday when the gunfire erupted because he had thrown the day before and took the day off to rest his arm. But he kept thinking about the fact that if the shooter had attacked a day earlier, he would have been throwing directly in front of where the attack began.
Those gnawing concerns were "nowhere near what I'm seeing from my colleagues like Trent Kelly," he said of a Republican Mississippi congressman. "The gunman pointed at him, pulled the trigger and missed. He is the guy that alerted the rest of the team. So he's dealing with all of this anxiety about 'Why am I alive?'"
Others, Meehan said, were replaying memories of diving into a dugout as bullets struck around them, or watching Scalise lying wounded, unable to go help him.
The game was on track to raise more than $1 million for Washington-area charities, after having drawn $650,000 before the shooting.
Democrats won, 11-2, breaking a deadlock of 39 wins apiece, with one tie. But after taking the trophy, the Democratic captain, Western Pennsylvanian Mike Doyle, gave it to GOP captain Joe Barton of Texas. Doyle said to keep the trophy in Scalise's office until he heals.
"The whole last two days have been surreal. I think a mixture of emotions," said Rep. Brendan Boyle, a Philadelphia Democrat wearing a white Phillies jersey. "Some us probably still haven't quite processed that one of our colleagues was shot very seriously and about a dozen others were shot at in what could have been a massacre."
Rep. Tom MacArthur, a Republican from South Jersey, said it was hard to believe the shooting was just a day earlier. "It seems like a long time ago. It's been a very long 24 hours."
But he saw a change in his committee hearing Thursday.
"There's most definitely, at least for the moment, a little more care about the rhetoric and how we disagree," MacArthur said.
In one show of unity at the game, Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Bucks County, sat with fellow freshman Philadelphia Democrat Dwight Evans.