Our nation is not easily shocked anymore, inured to repeated reports of gun violence. Yet we still sense terrible dissonance when the setting is a school. And it turns out bullets at a ballpark make us recoil in a similar way.
Children should be safe at school; baseball is a children’s game where the object is to be safe at home. Rogue shootings are repugnant in any venue, but the incongruity of them in our schools and on our diamonds retains the power to jolt us.
The annual Congressional baseball game between Republicans and Democrats will go on Thursday night at Nationals Park. That feels right. Ballparks can be our secular cathedrals. Much of the ritual of public healing after the 9/11 attacks came at big-league baseball games, pastime as patriotism.
Elections have consequences; ballgames played by congressmen and congresswomen don’t. But they do keep score — each side has won 39 games with one tie entering Thursday’s GOP vs. Dems matchup — and players care how they play. That’s why some members of the Republican team were at Eugene Simpson Stadium on Wednesday morning, getting in one last practice before the annual charity game.
T.C. Williams High School plays its baseball games at that ballpark in a leafy neighborhood of Alexandria, Va. There’s a Disney movie about T.C.’s integrated football team of 1971, but the guns that blazed on the diamond this week offered ghastly echoes more reminiscent of Remember the Alamo than Remember the Titans.
A madman fired at public servants. Police fired back. And the dreadful music of gunfire sounded at a place where danger is supposed to be left outside, save for the occasional high spike or high heat.
Ballparks are miniature gardens of Eden, patches of green carved out of our cities and towns. We know how the story of Eden ends. Man is expelled from the garden. Original sin wounds human nature. And Cain kills Abel.
Gary Palmer, a Republican from Alabama, was at shortstop when House Whip Steve Scalise, at second base, was shot in the hip, suffering grave injuries. Palmer talked about that Thursday on CBS This Morning from National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. Over his shoulder, you could see the statue of Will Rogers, political satirist of yore. Rogers loved baseball — and making fun of Congress.
“Baseball is a skilled game,” Rogers once said. “It’s America’s game — it, and high taxes.”
Chuck Raasch, my friend who covers Washington politics for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, knows Eugene Simpson Stadium well. His son played baseball there for T.C. Williams and Raasch coached youth baseball games there. He understands the heightened sense of place that ballparks hold in our collective memory.
“Like neighborhood baseball parks all over the country,” Raasch wrote, “Simpson is a magnet on soft spring and summer nights, when the ping of aluminum on cowhide is the cadence of life, and the cheers of young voices remind us of the unbroken string that baseball has been in our history.”
That history includes baseball’s so-called green-light letter. Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote it a few weeks after Pearl Harbor, with talk of canceling the season in the air. The games would go on. Thursday night's will, too.
Baseball is our everyday game, the one most connected to our past, always ready to get us back to the rhythms of life.
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