Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) is playing at second base tonight. And while she's played plenty of baseball and softball, this game may be the most symbolic of her career.
"We're going to show resiliency," she promised. "That we're not going to let the bad guys or the crazies interrupt our lives. We need to pull together and show we've got grit."
Sanchez is playing in the Congressional Baseball Game for Charity, a 108-year tradition in which Republicans and Democrats face off once a year before a large crowd, with all ticket sales going to charity.
Her colleagues on the other side of the aisle were at their final practice before this year's game when the FBI says James Hodgkinson opened fire on the players, injuring five people, including Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.).
Sanchez represents California's 38th district, a chunk of Southern California southeast of Los Angeles. She's a Democrat and has played in the Congressional Baseball Game since she first arrived on Capitol Hill 15 years ago.
"I've played in every game except the year I had my son," she said. "I didn't think it would be a good idea to play four weeks after having a C-section.
"This is America's pastime," she continued. "Everyone here in Congress looks forward to this time of year because we get to interact with our colleagues away from Capitol Hill. We get to know them as people, which I think is really important. It's easy to demonize someone you don't know. You get to know them as someone more than your adversary. The baseball team allows you to get to know members in a much friendlier way and bridges that divide that allows you to work better on legislation. With all the heated rhetoric right now, I think it is very important that this game continues."
She said they typically average about $15,000 in ticket sales. But the group organizing tonight's game posted on its Facebook page that it had "exceeded $20,000 in ticket sales" after the Washington Nationals allowed it to sell additional tickets following the shooting.
Tickets range from $10 to $15, which when combined with online donations, has led to a record $1 million in proceeds that will be distributed among four charities. Congress added the Capitol Police Memorial Fund after two Capitol Police officers, David Bailey and Crystal Griner, were wounded while trying to protect the members during the baseball practice. Both have since been released from the hospital.
A congressional aide, Zach Barth, has also been released, but lobbyist Matt Mika was shot multiple times and remains in critical condition, as does Scalise, who has undergone multiple surgeries for damage caused by a shot to the hip. President Donald Trump visited with Scalise's family earlier Thursday and commented, "He's in some trouble." But President Trump later added, "He's going to be OK. We hope."
Sanchez said she worries about security. Following the 2011 shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, she stopped taking her son to baseball practice and other community events. Scalise had police protecting him at the baseball field where he was shot because he is the third-highest ranking member in the U.S. House of Representative. But most other members, including Sanchez, don't have any security detail. So her son stays home. "I want him to see and experience our community events," she said. "But I just can't put him in harm's way."
Sanchez is one of two women playing in the game. Growing up, her father coached her brothers' baseball teams and put her in the field with them to practice. He would hit hard grounders to teach them how to knock balls down. "They hurt," she said.
She said people have given all the players a hard time in the past, calling them "a bunch of fat guys reliving their glory years." But Sanchez said tonight's game will show people why she thinks "team sports are so important for Congress. It teaches you to be a good sport, how to try hard, how to persevere and put forth a team effort."
"Members who served in the past talk about how Congress used to be a gentler, kinder place," she said. "They lived here. Their kids grew up here. They got to know each other after work by having dinner together. It was more civilized because it wasn't all about personal attacks. As soon as votes are over now, members have to rush to their planes to get to their districts, to get home to their families. And that's caused some of the civility to disappear."
She's in favor of more bipartisan events "but I don't want it to be window dressing where only five people show up. It has to be real bipartisanship" like the baseball game. "Nothing pulls people together like teamwork. You have a common goal and that's why it's really important that we play."