WASHINGTON — “I never thought I’d go to baseball practice and get shot at,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., who was at bat Wednesday morning when a gunman started shooting at GOP lawmakers practicing for their annual charity congressional game.
A shaken Davis, a catcher on his Republican team, was recounting the horror of dodging bullets and seeing a colleague shot down near second base. He said he was grateful that two Capitol Police officers were at the practice to fire back at the shooter and prevent a massacre.
He was still wearing his T-shirt and baseball pants, wanting to quickly get to the Capitol to share his experience and to spread the word that this politically motivated violence has got to stop.
Davis said he was at “my breaking point,” labeling the targeting of members of Congress “a sad testament of what I now consider political rhetorical terrorism.”
The now dead James Hodgkinson, 66, is from southern Illinois, a home inspector living outside Belleville, Illinois. He may have volunteered for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign and had his Facebook page filled with anti-Trump rhetoric.
The political implications of the shooting, said Davis, means “We’ve got to stop. We’ve got to come together as Republicans and Democrats.
“This political hateful rhetoric that is going on in social media or the news cycle where it seems Republicans and Democrats don’t get along out here; that’s just not true.
“. . . This should never happen and we, as Republicans and Democrats, have to come together and say, as a team, and as members of Congress in the greatest country in the history of the world, that this hate and this rhetoric has got to be toned down. It’s got to stop,” he added.
The shooting started at about 7:09 a.m. at a park in Alexandria, Virginia, a Washington suburb.
“I was at bat. I was hitting. I heard a loud bang,” said Davis, who has played in the Congressional game for about five years.
“It felt like somebody . . . dropped a big piece of metal. The next thing I heard was ‘everybody run, he’s got a gun.’ And we immediately ran and got into the dugout.”
Davis saw House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., lying in the outfield and thought he was dead as the others were running to find cover. Scalise, shot in the hip, was listed in critical condition at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center.
The live fire going on meant “Steve Scalise laid in that outfield while the shooter was there after he had been shot,” Davis said.
Davis first ran to a dugout. Then, “somebody said, ‘He’s coming around the corner of the field,’ so we, three of us, immediately ran up the sidewalk between two apartment buildings. A good Samaritan saw us running and said, ‘Come in.’”
Davis borrowed a phone — his was left on the field — to call his wife, his kids and 911.
At some point Davis must have hit the ground and scrapped his left elbow because part of his arm was bloodied.
The other two Illinois players on the GOP team, Rep. John Shimkus and Rep. Darin LaHood, were not at the practice. There are no Illinois Democrats on the men’s team.
Belleville is in the 12th Congressional District of Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill.
It is one of a handful of Illinois districts where voters in the Illinois March 2016 primary picked Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic contest and Trump bested a big field of GOP rivals.
The Sanders/Trump victory captured a discontent on the left and the right that Illinois political handicappers, perhaps focusing too much on the establishment candidates, had not detected.
Anger is “so prevalent,” Bost said in an interview. “One thing I think (the shooting) will do . . . I pray that it turns down the angry statements that exist toward the other parties.”
Said Davis, “When you go to baseball practice for a game for charity and you have to dodge bullets and you have to watch your colleague lie in the field, yeah, it’s my breaking point. This has got to stop. Hate has to stop.”