Guest Column: The Healing Power of Baseball

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September 21, 2001, is a day New Yorkers remember well. Ten days earlier, 9/11 had shattered the hearts of people in our city and across the nation. We gathered at Shea Stadium hoping—for a just a few hours anyway—to let baseball wash away our nightmares.

As the Mets trailed the Braves 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning, New York looked poised to endure yet another loss.

You know what happened next. We all do. Whether we are Mets fans or Yankees fans, Queens residents or Long Island residents, Democrats or Republicans, none of us have forgotten Mike Piazza hitting that long fly ball to deep center field. As the ball soared in the air and over the fence to give the Mets the lead, our collective hearts latched on for the ride. We were all united.

On June 14, I was practicing with my colleagues and friends on the Democratic baseball team when we were told to get off the field quickly. Reports were coming in that a shooting had occurred at the Republican baseball practice. As we sat in the dugout and the reports kept flooding in, most of us were left speechless. We had heard that Rep. Steve Scalise was shot, and possibly many more.

We didn’t know what to do. None of it seemed real. Suddenly and spontaneously, we said a prayer. You’ve probably seen that picture of us huddled together in that tiny dugout, arms draped around each other, praying for our Republican colleagues—our friends.

The rest of the day, most of us were in a fog. It was such a sad and sobering experience. Throughout the day, whether in the Capitol or in the hallways, in a briefing with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or in a hearing with the Secretary of State, I saw my Republican and Democratic colleagues and I knew we were united by this common experience. I was happy to see their faces and know that they were okay, while still praying for Rep. Scalise, his family and the other victims.

Despite this tragedy, we knew we had to play the Congressional Baseball Game the following day. It needed to happen. Democrats and Republicans needed to come together as one people and show the world that regardless of what the public sees on television or reads on the Internet, most of us in Congress like—and yes—love each other.

The next day at Nationals Park, after the lineups were introduced, we had what I believe was our “Piazza moment.” Every member of the Republicans and Democrats kneeled together at second base and observed a moment of prayer. The stadium went silent. I knew in that moment that the people watching in the stands felt as we did, that there were no Republicans or Democrats, just Americans. When we finished our prayer, the stadium erupted in applause.

The Democrats won the game 11-2. But honestly, who cares? America won that night. America won because we were united.

I’m starting to see the painted rust of partisanship that coats the Capitol dome begin to scrape away. Let’s use this opportunity to work together and try to get things done for the people we represent. I came to Congress to find solutions by working across party lines. I’m Vice-Chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus—22 Republicans and 22 Democrats working together. There’s plenty of us on board, now we need to get moving.

Politics has often become petty and small these days, so when I meet with our military officials or debate health care, I’m reminded we must remember that these are life and death issues, and only by working together can we address these serious issues that impact the lives of every American.

While the circumstances that created this unique moment are sad, an opportunity nonetheless stares us in the face, and we would be foolish not to grab it and run. So, let’s play ball.

—Rep. Tom Suozzi

For a full story on the Congressional Baseball Game, see Bipartisanship On The Diamond.

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Thomas R. Suozzi is the U.S. Representative for New York's 3rd district.

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