Scalise's return to the baseball field brings emotion, improbable plays

Last year’s Congressional baseball game was about who wasn’t on the diamond.

This year’s game was about who was.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., was playing second base at the Republican baseball practice in Alexandria, VA a little more than a year ago. That’s when a bullet from a 7.62 mm semi-automatic rifle traveling at nearly 2,500 feet per second, shredded his pelvis. The ammo minced tissue, arteries and blood vessels, spraying a lattice of bone fragments and shrapnel all over Scalise’s body.

The GOP Whip nearly died.

But this is about baseball.

The only thing expected in baseball is the unexpected.

Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dock Ellis firing a no-hitter while tripping on LSD. A game canceled because of rain at the old Houston Astrodome (the streets flooded). A zombie tarpaulin machine devouring the leg of St. Louis Cardinals speedster Vince Coleman before a game in the 1985 National League Championship Series.

It would be unexpected to expect Scalise to be back on the field in a year considering the extent of his injuries. But this is baseball. And there was Scalise ready to go Thursday night for the annual Congressional baseball game, a year to the day after the shooting.  The bipartisan crowd of 16,000 at Nats Park erupted in a standing ovation as Scalise took the field, festooned in a U.S. Capitol Police baseball cap.

Also on the diamond this week were two members of Scalise’s U.S. Capitol Police protective detail: Special Agents Crystal Griner and David Bailey. Both were injured in last year’s melee and are back on the job. Assisting again with this year’s baseball practices were lobbyist Matt Mika and House aide Zach Barth. Mika and Barth also took bullets a year ago.

Before the game, Griner and Bailey threw out the first pitches to Mika and Barth acting as battery mates, Griner still wearing a protective boot on her left leg after getting shot in the foot during the melee.

When Scalise returned to work on Capitol Hill last November, he mostly used a motorized scooter to get around. The Louisiana Republican then graduated to arm braces. He now uses one brace to walk slowly around the Congressional complex. At the ballgame, the duo of Bailey and Griner slung their arms around Scalise’s shoulders and slowly escorted their protectee from the first base dugout to his position at second base to start the game.

Expect the unexpected.

Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., led off for the Democrats. On the very first pitch, Ruiz slapped a sharp grounder slightly to Scalise’s right. The Whip took a singular, awkward step toward the ball, backhanding it and dropping to his knees. Scalise quickly steadied himself and fired to Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., playing first, nailing Ruiz charging down the baseline.

The crowd erupted. Scalise struggled to his feet without assistance even before shortstop and Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., could arrive to help. Brooks along with catcher and Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., ran over to embrace their colleague after making the most improbable of plays. Despite being put out at first, beaming Ruiz veered off to congratulate Scalise, holding his UC Riverside battling helmet in his left hand.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Scalise continued to patrol second base for another batter before retiring to the dugout. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, replaced his colleague. And the rest of the game was pure baseball.

A hard slide at third by baserunner and Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, upended third baseman and Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Miss. As the ball skipped away from Kelly, Ryan broke for home, going in Pete Rose style. Dirt flew everywhere, a nebula of dust wafting toward the third base dugout.

Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., pitches for the Democrats. A former athlete at Morehouse College, Richmond routinely hits 80-plus on the speed gun, stymieing GOP hitters and nibbling around the corners. Richmond wasn’t as sharp this year as in previous seasons. But he pitched a complete seven-inning game, propelling the Democrats to a 21-5 victory. Richmond helped his own cause, swatting a ball which rolled all the way to the center field wall. The Louisiana Democrat stopped at third, then thought better of it and sprinted home.

The next morning on the Capitol steps, Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., joked with Richmond about how many Advil he had to take after the game.

The teams are comprised mostly of men. But a few women play.

Rep. Nannette Barragan, D-Calif., bleeds Dodger blue. She grew up in southern California watching great Los Angeles Dodgers teams in the 1980s when “Fernandomania” intoxicated the baseball world. The Dodgers were loaded with talent in the 1970s and 1980s. Stalwarts like Bill Russell, Ron Cey and Rick Monday dominated the lineup. But the meteoric rise of Mexican native Fernando Valenzuela changed baseball in southern California for Latinos. As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, a young Barragan was not immune to Fernandomania.

Barragan wore a Dodgers uniform for the game, bearing number 44. Some high-profile Dodgers sported 44 as their uniform number over the years. Gene Mauch, Johnny Roseboro, Al Downing, Ken Landreaux, Ron Washington, Darryl Strawberry and Rich Hill. But Barragan wears 44 because that’s the number of her California Congressional district.

At last year’s game, Barragan got to meet a childhood idol, Dodger great Steve Garvey. And as a rookie, Barragan got a hit and an RBI in her first Congressional baseball game at bat.

“I stepped into the box said to myself that if anything is in the neighborhood, I’m going to go for it,” said Barragan. “I legged it out for a single.”

Barragan wasn’t as fortunate this year. She managed to get into not one but two brief arguments with the umpires on consecutive pitches. First, Barragan contested catcher’s interference, claiming the glove of Rodney Davis caught her bat on the backswing. All four umpires huddled and determined there was no contact. Then on the next pitch, Barragan alleged she was hit on the wrist. It was ruled a foul tip.

Barragan then struck out.

The umpires, just like government inspector generals, are supposed to be impartial arbiters.

The Congressional game includes many trappings of a regular Major League Baseball game. Even rivalries gurgle to the surface. When introducing Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-NY, Washington Nationals public address announcer Jerome Hruska noted that the Long Island Democrat deigned to come to the plate in New York Mets togs.

There’s nothing more traditional than each lawmaker having their own baseball card. However, the only thing lacking in the card packs is a thin plank of impenetrable bubblegum, seemingly made of titanium carbide.

But the cards are just like professional cards.

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., in a Central Michigan University uniform. Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., sporting a Minnesota Twins jersey. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., in a 2016 Trump campaign hat.

Then, for whatever reason, eight lawmakers are dressed in suits and ties on their cards: Reps. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., Gary Palmer, R-Ala., Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., Kevin Yoder, R-Kansas, Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Capitol Attitude is a weekly column written by members of the Fox News Capitol Hill team. Their articles take you inside the halls of Congress, and cover the spectrum of policy issues being introduced, debated and voted on there.