By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The gunshots that ripped through a congressional Republican team practice early Wednesday on a Virginia baseball field not only shook the U.S. Capitol but also upended what many Americans consider a symbol of fair play and summer fun.
Before he was killed, a gunman shot and wounded a senior Republican House leader and several others getting ready on an Alexandria, Virginia, field for a charity game between Republicans and Democrats on Thursday in nearby Washington, D.C.
The annual Congressional Baseball Game charity event, where Senate and House members from both parties face off together, has raised $600,000 for the Boys and Girls Club, the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation and the Washington Literacy Center, according to several lawmakers and event organizers.
The game at Nationals Park may be one of the last vestiges of cooperation between the two sides in the nation's capital, where some believe partisan politics is at an all-time high.
"There's such a hatefulness in what we see in American politics and policy discussions right now ... this has got to stop," Representative Rodney Davis, a Republican team member, told CNN in an interview while still wearing his baseball cleats and practice clothes.
Davis said the congressional game was a great demonstration that Democrats and Republicans could still get along.
“We have fun," said a visibly upset Davis. "I never thought I'd play a baseball game for charity, got to practice at 6:30 in the morning and have to dodge bullets."
The gun violence early on Wednesday scarred what is for many almost sacred American ground - the baseball field. Considered America's so-called national pastime, the game dates back to the 1800s even as it now competes heavily with other popular sports including football and basketball.
"I've always felt safe on a baseball field, and now I don't know if I'll ever feel safe on a baseball field again," Representative Chuck Fleischmann, also at the shooting scene, told CNN.
The grassy field once known for roasted peanuts and hot dogs now instead conjures images of a battlefield, fellow Republican Brad Wenstrup, an Army Reserve officer, said on Twitter.
"You never expect a baseball field in America to feel like being back in a combat zone in Iraq, but this morning it did," wrote Wenstrup, a congressman from Ohio.
When congressional members were told in a bipartisan briefing that Thursday's baseball game would still be held despite the shooting, they leapt to their feet in a standing ovation, Republican Representative Martha McSally told Reuters.
"Tomorrow we'll go out on the field, we'll root for our team," U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi later told lawmakers from the chamber floor. "We will use this occasion as one that brings us together and not one that separates us further."
(Additional reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Writing by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Matthew Lewis)