Within moments of the shooting, we are reporters again. A tweet says Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana has been shot. We call out to one another about who is going to the crime scene as we gather up our gloves.
Years ago, before I came to Capitol Hill, I completed “hostile environment training” for reporters heading into combat zones.
On the edge of the hills outside Washington, a handful of former British Royal Marines force-fed us skills for identifying an I.E.D. and surviving a kidnapping. They also taught us to pack gunshot wounds and — in an unnerving simulation that drenched trainees in pig’s blood, spurting as though from an arterial bleed — apply tourniquets.
“Not for me,” I thought as I drove home, ruling out a career in a war zone.
Firing off emails at a red light as I drive away from our field, I pause at a colleague’s request:
There is a rumor that one congressman used a belt as a tourniquet, she writes. Can I confirm it?
This is the moment it becomes real.
The practice uniform hangs off him, and his hair is matted, a bright orange University of Tennessee hat in his hands.
Representative Chuck Fleischmann is matter-of-fact as he recounts the moment a gunman opened fire on his Republican team’s baseball practice.
“If he had wanted to — my back was to him,” he says. “I could have been his first victim.”
As he huddles with more than a half dozen of us near the House floor, my eyes follow a smudge of dirt on his shirt. “Republican” is printed in a flourish across his chest.
A reporter asks about his uniform — not this one; the one he will wear at the baseball game.
The words catch in his throat.
Within a few minutes, the story will come out in halting pieces — how the Howard School in Chattanooga, one of the oldest predominantly black public high schools in the South, fielded its first baseball team in 40 years; how they did not win a single game but played hard; how he promised to wear their team cap.
He takes a long moment to collect himself, tears in his eyes. We are basically strangers, but I feel the impulse to put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. Later I regret that I didn’t.
“It’s O.K., congressman,” I tell him quietly.
Thursday, June 15
In the stands at the Congressional Baseball Game, I think about what I haven’t thought about in the past 36 hours: that I was at a practice for a congressional ballgame when a practice for a congressional ballgame came under attack; that a congressman I have covered so closely that I’ve visited his high school was shot at; that I’m having creeping flashbacks to other tragedies, professional and personal.
Mostly, I gently scold myself for feeling raw: No one shot at me.
The immediacy and objectivity necessary to reporting well often outweighs personal needs: emotions, exhaustion, hunger.
I chat with reporters and congresswomen from the softball teams. The congresswomen held their practice this morning, admittedly jittery but determined.
(The players of the softball game, above, come together to watch the Congressmen’s baseball game. Back, from left, Representative Cheri Bustos of Illinois; Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; Mikayla Bouchard of The Times; Emily Goodin of RealClearPolitics; Atalie Ebersole, president of the Congressional Women’s Softball Game. Middle row, from left, Leigh Ann Caldwell of NBC News; Representative Norma Torres of California; the reporter, Emmarie Huetteman, of The Times; Kasie Hunt of NBC News. Front, Frank Thorp V of NBC News.)
Mr. Fleischmann wears two caps: off the field, the Howard School; on the field, with the other players, L.S.U. — in honor of Mr. Scalise.
Wednesday, June 21
“Who brings a briefcase to a ballpark?” an officer asks as he flips open my computer bag at the entrance to the softball field.
After last week’s shooting, the game’s organizers reassured us that security would be tighter. But they have locked down the elementary school field on which we are playing like a fortress — albeit one with a playground. The surrounding streets are blocked off, and two snipers pace the school’s roof. Even the players have security wands waved over them at a checkpoint.
In past years it was pretty easy for loved ones to stop by the dugout. This year the dugouts are restricted areas.
It takes me a while to put my finger on this uneasy feeling: isolation.
The pregame chatter stops as Crystal Griner is wheeled onto the field. A Capitol Police officer on Mr. Scalise’s security detail when the gunman opened fire, she was shot in the ankle. She will throw out the first pitch from her wheelchair, the two teams flanking her along the first and third baselines.
She sends the ball sailing toward the plate with a bounce. The crowd erupts in cheers, but she is determined, holding up one finger: She wants another try. She gets it.
Three years ago, Gabby Giffords threw out the first pitch, three years after she was shot in the head at a constituent event in Arizona. She had been a member of the softball team, and the flurry of pregame activity ceased as we watched her, reflecting on that terrible moment when the country pulled together and decided we could not let that happen again.
I recognize that same feeling as we encircle Crystal on the mound: a spontaneous magnetic force pulling us together, we creatures of the Capitol — the lawmakers, the news-gatherers and the people willing to take a bullet to protect us.
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