Republican comeback after eight years? Yeah, on the baseball diamond

Republicans celebrate their 8-7 victory in the annual Congressional Baseball Game, after seven consecutive losses. (Photo by Keshia Butts/Cronkite News)

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, was playing in his first Congressional Baseball Game, an annual charity game that pits Republicans against Democrats. (Photo by Keshia Butts/Cronkite News)

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, takes his turn at bat. Flake drove in the tying run and scored the winning run in the ninth inning on a hit by another lawmaker. (Photo by Keshia Butts/Cronkite News)

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, is a veteran of the Congressional Baseball Game, where he played center field this year. (Photo by Keshia Butts/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – There were two places to watch political hardball in Washington on Thursday.

One was the floor of the House at 2:30 a.m., where Democrats were locked in a showdown with the Republican majority over a gun-control measure.

The other was the field at Nationals Park, where Democrats and Republicans faced off Thursday evening for their annual charity baseball game. It was clear which one Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, preferred.

Gallego, who joined fellow Democrats during their sit-in of the House, was suited up and ready to play and rolled his eyes when a reporter tried to ask a question about politics.

“I love baseball,” said Gallego. “I’ve been playing since I was about 6 years old.

“It’s tradition of the Democrats playing the Republicans every year and I wanna take part in that this year,” said Gallego, a freshman playing in his first game here. “So I’ve been practicing with the team and hopefully I get to play today.”

Even though the stands were clearly divided between Republican and Democratic supporters, players and fans alike said the partisanship pretty much ended with the team lineups and the seating arrangements.

“You can tell that people are joking and cheering and it’s not very like, you know, mean-spirited even with all of the stuff that’s been going on lately, so it’s nice,” said Hannah Brown, a college student in D.C. for a summer internship. “It’s very American.”

Her friend, University of Michigan student Jill Rosenfeld, wasn’t entirely convinced that “differences are being put aside very much.”

There was typical baseball crowd partisanship – Democrats booed when Republicans got a hit, for example – but, this being Washington, some of the cheers took on political overtones. When Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Florida, came to bat, he was greeted by Republican chants of “Mar-co, Ru-bi-o,” the incumbent Republican senator whose seat Murphy is running for.

Mostly, however, it appeared to be in good fun, on and off the field.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, said the game is a way for both sides to put aside their differences and just play ball.

– Cronkite News video by Keshia Butts.

“This is great for that purpose,” said Flake, a regular member of the Republican team who was playing in center field Thursday.

“Joe Donnelly over on the other side, Chris Murphy, they are some of my best friends,” Flake said, referring to Democratic senators from Indiana and Connecticut, respectively. “We got to know each other playing ball and it really it really helps. It helps on Capitol Hill.”

The game was started in 1909 and played sporadically over the years until 1962 when the current annual series began. The game raises money for the Washington Literacy Center, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington and the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation, bringing in $509,000 this year.

The series has been even over the years, but Republicans have hit on hard times, losing seven straight going into Thursday’s game.

Despite a lack of sleep for House members – all had been on the floor at 2:30 a.m., and some Democrats stayed through night – Gallego was confident.

“We’re definitely gonna win,” he said before the game. “We’re Democrats, we always win.”

After falling behind early, the Democrats rallied to take the lead. But Flake drove in the tying run in the seventh, and scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth on a single by Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Florida, giving Republicans an 8-7 win, their first victory in eight years.