The Congressional Baseball Game for Charity used to be a snooze-fest for Capitol Hill staff. Now it’s a capital-e Event.
No matter what the ticket says, come early or risk waiting elbow-to-elbow with everyone else who attempted to slip in minutes before gametime.
Hordes of attendees (most of them political folk) filtered at a glacial pace through three security checkpoints at the main entrance of Nationals Park on Thursday evening. As the line ticked forward, employees from the software company Quorum pushed custom playing cards of all 62 lawmakers in the lineup. Dissatisfied customers bartered with fellow strangers, trading away Republican and Democrat House member cards for coveted tokens of their favorite senators. If you were lucky, you picked the faster moving line that pushed you toward the main gate in just 30 minutes.
This year’s game, which falls on the anniversary of the near-fatal shooting during a GOP practice in Northern Virginia, felt busier than years prior. There were step-and-repeats sponsored by C-SPAN, VIP goodie bags for special wristband wearers, and premier access to the (spendy-for-most) PNC Diamond Lounge, which attracted a large coterie of Trump folk and Beltway socialites. Platinum cards were not a precursor for a pleasant viewing experience; nearly every available section had a decent view of the average gameplay and excellent opportunities for people-watching.
Individuals of a certain status—lawmakers, lobbyists, and, for some reason, Aflac staffers—sat in the first six rows toward home plate. That’s where you’d see Nancy Pelosi dressed head to toe in canary blue, former DNC chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Reporters in street clothes were peppered into GOP and Democrat cheering sections, to the right and left of home plate respectively. Some took the game as an opportunity to build sources while others delicately slid under the radar and rooted for their personal reps. One network television producer told Washingtonian that nights such as this were a prime opportunity to blend in and enjoy an American pastime without accusations of “fake news.”
“Everyone spends so much time demonizing the other side I think it’s great to get a chance to see that these are all just normal, if not particularly athletic, humans,” the producer said after a swig of a $7 Budweiser tall boy.
Yes, the only suits visible here were those of staffers and interns who likely rushed down from their offices off New Jersey Avenue to the waterfront diamond in order to catch the first pitch thrown by newly anointed hometown hero (and the only player to receive a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle), Representative Steve Scalise.
And then there was Section 120, whose cheering squad was so loud, Pelosi took a double take. In it, Aaron Sparks, Ben Bucklew, Andy Kelly, Russell Pit-Og, Matt Moll, Matt Bubucz, Brian Gallagher, and Larry Hammon cheered relentlessly for their old fraternity brother Matt Mika.
Mika was shot multiple times in the chest exactly one year ago, leaving the seasoned Tyson Foods Lobbyist and GOP team member in critical, near fatal, condition during the harrowing 2017 tragedy. “He was losing his life. He was a dead man walking. The least we could do is support our friend,” Sparks said.
Not all cheering squads were so kumbaya. White House staffers packed the food lines for chicken fingers and jumbo pretzels in sections 129-130, which held senior aides, West Wing workers, and a monumental Scalise cheering squad with matching shirts and signs waved red pennant banners reading “I 🖤 The Republic.” Over in Section 106–Democrat territory–attendees waved blue pennants, declaring “Democracy Hustles Harder.” The Democrats racked up play after play; toward the end of the night, a stunning play from the Democrats inspired a different kind of “blue wave” than the one on the lips of many advocates. Cheering, stomping, and arm flailing erupted from the left-hand side of the stadium as their team pounded the GOP by 16 points.
Not since 2013, when the Democrats won in a knockout 22-0 game, has the differential been so high. The game was called in the bottom of the seventh, and the Democrats won 21-5.
As rows of visitors filed out of a dimmed Nationals Stadium, two fans of the losing team proposed an age-old Congressional staffer commiseration: “Don’t worry, we’re going to drown it out with several rounds at Tortilla Coast. You in?”