Tonight's game in DC 'a unifying event'

Despite shooting, Congressional ballgame played as scheduled

Tonight's game in DC 'a unifying event'

It was decided that the game would go on because the game must go on, and it has never been more important for it to be played than it is tonight.

That has been the overwhelming bipartisan conclusion of the American lawmakers who took the diamond for Thursday night's annual Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park, especially in the wake of the tragedy that shook Washington on Wednesday morning. The game is streaming live on MLB.com and Facebook.com/MLB.

The horrific event took place at a field in Alexandria, Va., when Republican members of Congress, their staff members and Capitol police on security detail were attacked by a gunman as they practiced for tonight's game.

Five people were wounded in the shooting, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise from Louisiana, who was in critical condition as of Thursday morning after being shot in the hip. The gunman, James T. Hodgkinson III, died after a shootout with Capitol Police officers Crystal Griner and David Bailey, both members of Scalise's security detail who were also wounded.

That afternoon, leaders of Congress held a tearful private briefing, and when it was announced that the game would go on for the 108th consecutive year as planned, the lawmakers rose in unison and applauded, according to various reports.

"All of us are really shaken by this," Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune while leaving the meeting. "There was an incredible tone of unity. And all of us need to take the responsibility for the tone and for the fact that we are one in terms of our love for our country and our vulnerability.

"And we need to stand together as Democrats and Republicans."

Tonight, they're doing that at the game, which has been played at the ballpark of the hometown Nationals for the past nine years and attracted an estimated crowd of 10,000 last year. This time, in a tribute to Scalise, an alumnus of Louisiana State University, members of both Congressional teams planned to wear some form of LSU's purple and gold.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) dons catching gear before Thursday's game. (MLB.com)

The tribute was reportedly organized by Rep. Roger Marshall (Kansas), and LSU athletic director Joe Alleva told NOLA.com that the school has sent hats, towels, shirts and hats to the Congressmen to wear tonight. LSU recently qualified for the College World Series and is set to face Florida State on Saturday night.

"Scalise was always decked out head-to-toe in LSU gear," Marshall's spokesman, Eric Pahls, told the Independent Journal Review. "This is time for all of us to show that we stand with him."

Major League Baseball has been a longtime supporter of the Congressional Baseball Game, which is not only a break from the daily grind of D.C. politics but also serves as an important fundraiser. Proceeds from ticket sales of this year's event will benefit the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Washington, The Washington Literacy Center, and the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to Representative Steve Scalise, Congressional staff, U.S. Capitol Police and all those who were impacted by today's senseless violence at a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia," MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said on Wednesday.

"Both teams have been practicing for weeks in preparation for the game at Nationals Park and we fully support the decision to play the game. We look forward to a full recovery for each of the victims and hope that [Thursday] night's game can play a constructive role in the healing process."

Justice: Congressional ballgame brings sides together

The news of the shooting struck close to the Nationals, too. The team released its own statement almost immediately, saying, "This bipartisan event shows baseball's power to bring people together. Our thoughts and prayers are with those wounded today and their families."

Star outfielder Bryce Harper offered his support in a tweet: "My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families effected by the senseless act of violence at the Congressional Baseball Practice!"

And Nationals manager Dusty Baker, who lives in Alexandria during the season and visited the Capitol recently to have lunch with the Congressional baseball team managers -- Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) -- also expressed his dismay.

"It's a sad state of affairs," Baker said. "I told my family: You always have to be aware of your surroundings, because you never know. Especially in crowds. Especially where there are important people around.

"We always see things happening from afar, but there are things happening domestically, too. I don't know what the answer is. It's just sad when innocent people get hurt."

Video: Dusty Baker discusses the tragedy in Virginia

But strength in the face of adversity, unity as a country, an the great game of baseball will be on display tonight, and the players will take their positions with pride.

"We're united not as Republicans and Democrats but as United States representatives," Barton said Wednesday. "It will be, 'Play ball.'"

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.