Congressional Republicans hit the dugout before dawn Wednesday morning for their first baseball practice of the season, returning to Simpson Field together for the first time since the tragic June shooting that left six people hospitalized, including House majority whip Steve Scalise.
"This baseball field, I think it epitomizes what makes America great," said Texas GOP Rep. Joe Barton, the team's manager.
Barton was at the practice with his two sons last year when the gunman opened fire around the field, shooting at least 70 rounds.
"I'm very proud of the team, I'm proud of the resiliency they exhibited last year and I'm proud of how they have responded," he said.
Members were in good spirits during a catching drill on the muddy field, encouraging each other with "good jobs" and "way to gos."
But signs of the shooting were still present over ten months later: a strong increase in security presence by Capitol Police, chain link fence bent and broken by bullets next to the dugout.
The practices will continue at multiple fields across the Washington area over the next few weeks, following guidance from Capitol Police.
Members in attendance Wednesday included team coach Rep. Roger Williams, and Reps. Chuck Fleischmann, Lou Barletta, Mo Brooks, Jack Bergman, Mike Conaway, Jodey Arrington, Mia Love and Sen. Jeff Flake. Many of the members wore Capitol Police baseball caps.
Georgia Rep. Barry Loudermilk wore the same bright yellow jersey to practice as last year.
"A lot of emotions when we left the field that day," he said. "One of the things that stayed with me was we never got to finish the practice that we started, and that's why I wore the same uniform I was wearing on the field that day because it was important to come out here and show the world that we're not going to be deterred."
Scalise, who is at home following a "successful" planned surgery last week while continuing to recover from injuries he sustained last year, was not able to attend, but said he was "glad" to see practice start up again.
"It is so important that we continue to maintain the same tradition," Scalise said in a statement read by Barton. "Most years we compete for starting positions and rekindle old relationships. This year's different: the whole country is watching with pride as we come together and prove that one act of madness will not tear the spirit of camaraderie and philanthropy that has made this such a strong institution of Congress."
Staffers Matt Mika and Zach Barth, who were both shot that June day, were also at the practice. Mika, who was shot in the chest and the arm, said being back on the field was "really special," and praised the bravery of Capitol Police, Alexandria Police and other first responders, including paramedic Fiona Apple, who helped save his life that day and returned to support the team Wednesday.
The congressional charity baseball game will take place June 14, one year to the day after the shooting, at Nationals' Park in Washington, DC.