Uniting Through Baseball

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A momentous event took place among the crowd of 36,155 at Nationals Park last Wednesday night. While most fans settled in for just another evening of baseball along the Anacostia, some of the most powerful members of our government convened not to draft or debate policy, but to come together in a relaxed setting to get to know each other as human beings and take in a ballgame.

Partisan politics can hinder progress in Washington sometimes, which is why Representatives David B. McKinley (R – W.Va.) and Diana DeGette (D – Colo.) decided to try to bridge the two sides of the aisle through baseball. Admittedly, they didn’t know what kind of response they would receive for the first-ever Congressional Night at Nationals Park, but they were pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

Congressman McKinley (second from left) and Congresswoman DeGette (third from left) spearheaded the bipartisan effort.

Representatives McKinley (second from left) and DeGette (third from left) spearheaded the bipartisan effort.

More than 100 Members of Congress RSVP’d for the event, along with more than 450 of their staffers. While Democrats and Republicans will face off against one another in the annual Congressional Baseball Game tonight, Thursday, June 13 at Nationals Park, this event gave both sides a chance to come together, as colleagues instead of adversaries, to enjoy America’s game.

As evidenced here, baseball brings people together in a special way like nothing else can. We sat down with representatives McKinley and DeGette as they arrived at the ballpark to discuss how this all came about, and what they think they may be able to accomplish through the common ground of baseball.

Curly W Live: What was the genesis of this whole thing? How did it start and whose idea was it?

Congressman David B. McKinley: We just thought we ought to get together. I think too often the American public doesn’t think we know each other, and I think we can do a better job of it; I don’t think we get along very well either. So, we figured let’s get together and break down those walls. Because it’s hard (to disagree) after you have a drink with someone, or have a hamburger, once you get to know them a little bit. This was a positive step and (Congresswoman DeGette) was our first choice. That’s who I wanted as the co-chair (for this event). And we’re going to have over 100 congressmen and 400 staffers, so we’ll have over 500 people here on our first effort.

DeGette: We’re on the same committee together (the Energy and Commerce Committee). It’s his second term, my ninth term, and we’ve been sitting there for a couple years thinking — and there are probably people on both sides thinking — there’s a lot we could do together if we only got to know each other better. So when Dave came up to me on the floor and said, ‘Hey, will you co-chair this game?’ it was really perfect. And, he didn’t know this, but I’m a huge baseball fan and I’m a Colorado Rockies season ticket holder.

A few of the attending Congressmen gathered in front of Nationals Park.

A few of the attending Members of Congress gathered in front of Nationals Park.

CWL: How did the specific idea for baseball come up?

McKinley: I think it’s just a good time, you get to be outdoors here and it’s convenient for Congress. We want our Congressmen to get to talk to each other.

DeGette: And, you know, baseball’s our national sport, so of course it’s the logical choice.

CWL: How long in the making has this event been?

McKinley: Probably a couple of months.

DeGette: And the Nationals have been very, very helpful to us.

CWL: This is a first-time event, but what do you hope to build off this to bring back to the Hill?

McKinley: (We want to) start to break down barriers, just so we talk to each other, because we don’t do that. There are not functions where Congress gets together. This is a beginning. DeGette and I first met when we went over to Normandy on D-Day to place a wreath there, and we realized that we can have a conversation. We don’t have to be adversaries. What we want to do is get more people doing the same thing.

DeGette: And, you know, we can’t agree on everything, but we have enough trust in each other now. When we disagree, we don’t have to beat around the bush. We can say, ‘Hey, you know, I can’t do that, but maybe we can do it this other way.’ I’ve found that in all my years in Congress that actually can be really beneficial.

CWL: Does the ballpark provide a safe haven where you can check that at the door and everybody can get along?

DeGette: Oh, absolutely.

McKinley: I think so. But again, I’m just so delighted. This morning, we had 101 guaranteed tickets of congressmen and at least 400 staffers. How many thought we would have over 500 people on the first time?

DeGette: For our first one! So what we hope is that word will get around about how great this is, and then next year we’ll have 1,000 people.

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