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Former Congressman Dr. Phil Gingrey provides public policy and government relations counsel to clients on a variety of issues. Here at Phil on the Hill, Phil draws upon his long career in public service to provide perspective and context on policy topics such as health care, the federal budget, annual appropriations, regulatory reform, and life sciences.

Baseball, Camaraderie and Competition

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Like every current and former member of Congress, I’ve been thinking a lot about the event a few weeks ago and what good we can take away from that senseless crime in Alexandria.

I am especially thinking about Steve Scalise and the others who were wounded. Like everyone who knows Steve — and millions who don’t — he has been high on my prayer list.

I had the pleasure of serving with Steve for two years on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Every time we took our seats next to one another, Steve smiled and called me “Doctor Gingrey.” I took to calling Steve, a former systems engineer, “Doctor Scalise.” It became our running joke. It is also an example of the kind of infectious camaraderie that endears Steve to Democrats, as well as his fellow Republicans.

Everyone recognizes Steve’s potential. It took me six years to win a seat on the prestigious and prominent E&C Committee. Steve, 20 years my junior, managed to get there in just one year. Steve’s rise has since been meteoric, going on the lead the more than 170 members of the Republican Study Group and serving as House Minority Whip.

But I really got to know Steve when we played together for the Republican team of the Congressional Baseball Game. I did an adequate job as an outfielder. Steve excelled at second base.

Both of us are Southerners for whom baseball is bred in the bone. I played in high school. (And I hung on the stories of my late father-in-law, Bill Ayers, a journeyman ballplayer who played a season for the New York Giants. It was as a star pitcher for the Atlanta Crackers that Bill took the mound for 21 innings against Mobile, and only stopped when a midnight curfew ended the game in a 4-4 tie.)

Along with memories of my Republican teammates, I also have fond memories of our spirited games against the Democrats. We fought to win on the diamond, but afterwards it was handshakes, back pats and a migration to a local watering hole.

The next day, when we debated our political opponents, we couldn’t help but see them as friends and colleagues. Baseball taught us how to mix camaraderie and competition.

It’s often been observed that baseball is a lot like politics in our constitutional system. Pitchers must pitch to an opposing batter. Parties must work together to pass legislation. In both systems, opponents must respect each other and cooperate in order for everything to work as it should.

It’s something to think about for the days, weeks, months and years ahead.